Sports

A true student-athlete

Senior guard Luis Guzman started all 35 games for the men’s basketball team this year. In the middle of the season, he also received his diploma – in three-and-a-half years.

Senior guard Luis Guzman started all 35 games for the men’s basketball team this year. In the middle of the season, he also received his diploma – in three-and-a-half years.

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COURTESY JOSEPH V. LABOLITO/TEMPLE UNIVERSITY LUIS GUZMAN’S FAMILY, INCLDING HIS FATHER, CARLOS; MOTHER, VIERKA; AUNT, LEINY MONTEZ; AND YOUNGER BROTHERS, CARLOS JR. AND JAYBIE; POSE WITH GUZMAN AFTER HE RECEIVES HIS DIPLOMA.

Luis Guzman doesn’t have to wake up early on May 13 to make it to the university commencement ceremony at the Liacouras Center at 10 a.m. He doesn’t have to iron his gown and make sure to place the tassel on the proper side of his cap. He won’t shake the hand of any dean and receive a diploma.

He’s already done all that.

Guzman, a senior guard on this year’s men’s basketball team, graduated from the Fox School of Business with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree on Jan. 29 – three-and-a-half years after he started classes at Temple.

“I didn’t think of graduating in three-and-a-half years. They just told me that I could graduate,” said Guzman, who majored in marketing. “That was one of the best days of my life besides basketball. That was such a day for me and for my family. It was pretty emotional but also very happy.”

Guzman said that both of his parents cried throughout the ceremony, especially when Fox Dean M. Moshe Porat specifically mentioned his name. Guzman’s parents are first-generation immigrants from the Dominican Republic. They did not have the opportunity to attend college. Instead, they went right to work to give Guzman as many benefits as he could have from living in the United States.

“I did this for them,” Guzman said.

Guzman grew up in Bronx, N.Y., and attended Paramus Catholic High School in Paramus, N.J. Paramus Catholic is the largest private school in New Jersey and ranks in the Top 1 percent of Catholic schools nationwide. It offers its students a Catholic, co-educational college-preparatory education in Newark’s archdiocese.

Guzman finished his senior year at Paramus as the school’s all-time leading scorer with more than 1,500 career points. He was selected All-Bergen County as a junior and senior, and he averaged 18.5 points, eight assists, nine rebounds and three steals per game his last year there. Rivals.com rated him New Jersey’s No. 9 prospect in the high school Class of 2006.

Guzman signed his National Letter of Intent with the expectation that John Chaney would be coaching him at Temple. Chaney retired on March 13, 2006. Coach Fran Dunphy replaced him a little less than a month later on April 10. One of the first things Dunphy did after his hire was call Guzman, who was Chaney’s last remaining recruit. The other two – Matthew Shaw and Mike Scott – opted out of their Letters of Intent. Shaw went to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Scott to the University of Virginia. Guzman stayed at Temple.

“[I originally wanted to come to Temple and play for Chaney] because of the guard tradition that they had,” Guzman said. “Their guards were successful. Coach Dunphy took the job, and he told me to hear him out, and everything worked out. I learned a lot from him. There’s nothing I won’t do for that man. He made me the man I am today.”

Guzman’s four years at Temple were not without their share of ups-and-downs, though.

In his freshman season, Guzman appeared in only 11 games and averaged just 0.7 points, 0.7 rebounds and 0.7 assists in 3.3 minutes per game. Frustrated about his lack of playing time, Guzman turned to then-senior forward Dion Dacons for advice. After one year playing professionally in Uruguay, Dacons returned to Temple men’s basketball last year as the coordinator of student development. Dacons could relate to Guzman. He too played sporadically his freshman season after graduating from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.

“He went through a stretch where he wasn’t getting as much playing time as he thought he deserved,” Dacons said. “As my dad used to tell me, ‘The pine will change your mind.’ Sitting on the bench gives you a lot of time to think about stuff. I think he started to listen. He started to realize what Coach wanted from him and what Coach needed from him as far as a player. He started to open up his ears.”

Guzman started 27 of the Owls’ 33 games his sophomore season. He averaged 3.9 points per game and 2.3 rebounds per game. Last year, though, Guzman returned to the bench after guard Juan Fernandez joined the team in December 2008. Guzman played in 24 games last season but started only six of them. At the end of the year, Dunphy approached him about the possibility of transferring.

“What I said to him was, ‘If you’re going to be the same guy you were the first three years, it’s not going to work, so you might want to look into going to another school. I’m not telling you that you have to transfer, but if you’re going to do the same things that you’ve been doing the last three years … I need you to be a great leader who doesn’t care how many minutes he gets, somebody who doesn’t care about scoring points necessarily but really wants to help any way he can for the team,’” Dunphy said.

Guzman used Dunphy’s suggestion as motivation. He vowed that he would do whatever Dunphy asked of him during his senior season. Dunphy, in turn, told Guzman that he would write his name in the starting lineup.

“I said, ‘Listen, I’m going to put you in the starting lineup, but I can’t have you be anybody other than what I can count on every single day. Are you OK with that? If you’re expecting to come out here and shoot jumpers all day and drive to the basket, I can’t have that, so that starting assignment will go away,’” Dunphy said. “He said he understood and said he would be very good at that this year. He was true to his word. When he finally decided he was just going to do what he could do, then I think he blossomed into a guy that didn’t miss too many minutes of college basketball this past year. He was on the court a whole lot and at crunch time, and as a senior, he was as low maintenance in the classroom as anybody we have. He took care of his business.”

“That mindset when you’re in college is that, ‘Well, I can go somewhere else.’ I tried to tell him that if you leave, then that image of you from here is that you’re a quitter. You don’t ever want to be looked at as a quitter,” Dacons said. “His playing time struggled for a little bit more than mine, but I talked to him about why he’s not playing. I think Lou started to understand something that I tried to preach to him all the time. Early on in his career, he thought he had to score to make a difference. My biggest thing to him was that you can leave this game with zero points and nothing on your stat sheet, and you can be the biggest, most intricate part of the win. You have to accept not getting the limelight all the time. If you really, truly want to win, that’s what you’ll do. To be honest with you, I think he did that pretty much this year to the best of his ability.”

This year, Guzman started all 35 of the Owls’ games. He finished the season averaging 4.9 points per game and 4.2 rebounds per game. More importantly, he helped lead No. 12/13 Temple to a 29-6 record, Big 5 title and third straight Atlantic Ten Conference Championship. The Owls made it to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in Guzman’s four-year career, though they lost to Cornell in the first round.
In the midst of all the on-the-court success, Guzman achieved his greatest success off it. With his Temple career all but over athletically and academically, he said he now has time to enjoy college and be a “regular college student.”

Dacons estimated that student-athletes, at least men’s basketball players, dedicate 15 of the 24 hours in a day to academics and athletics. Guzman said that his freshman to sophomore year was his most intense. He took five classes per semester that year (he said he trimmed his class load to an average of four classes per semester after that). Guzman said a typical day his first year began by waking up at 8:40 a.m. every day for class. After that class, he would eat and then trek to his next one. Once that class ended, he lifted weights for about an hour then went to class again. Guzman said he had about an hour or two to relax before eating again, heading to practice, eating his final meal of the day and then spending about two hours in study hall. Guzman said the routine rarely varied during the last three-and-a-half years. Dacons agreed.

“That’s Monday through Friday, both semesters, four years,” Dacons said. “Time management is definitely the key for a college athlete, especially a basketball player. Basketball is the only sport that lasts both semesters. It’s a nonstop sport. Even when it’s off, it’s still on because the next person is working out, so you’ve got to work out as well to stay on top.”

In order to get ahead in his classes, Guzman enrolled in every summer session. Essentially, he never took a break.

“People don’t know that that’s one of the hardest things,” Guzman said. “We sacrifice our time into basketball. It’s pretty hard. Other people did it before me, though, so there was no reason why I couldn’t do it. You just have to stay on top of your books. It’s like having two jobs at the same time. If you have your head on right, then everything will work out.”

Dacons said that Guzman’s academic achievements probably resonate more among non-athletes than among the members of the basketball team, simply because non-athletes might not expect them.

“We’re regular students, too,” Dacons said. “We might be in the limelight a little bit more, but we have to go to class. We’re not stupid. We’re not out here being jocks. Teachers aren’t out here giving us breaks. Sometimes we have more problems with teachers than non-athletes because of traveling. But graduating in three-and-a-half years is awesome. That’s like one of those statements where people can say period and just leave the statement alone. What more can you say? I know people who it takes five years to graduate, and they’re not doing anything but school.”

Right now, Guzman is finishing up two health classes he needed to take to keep his scholarship. He still interacts with his teammates and has specifically taken a leadership role with sophomore guard Ramone Moore, sophomore forward Scootie Randall and freshman guard Khalif Wyatt. Guzman said that Dacons, Dustin Salisbery and Dionte Christmas took him under their wings, so he figured he should do the same, particularly with young players who may not have the opportunity to play as much as they would like to right now.

“I think a lot of his leadership wouldn’t be where I would look at it, see it and evaluate it,” Dunphy said. “I think a lot of his leadership may come at 10 and 11 p.m. at night, sitting down with one of these guys in the dorms. I think he has a lot of experience at the frustration piece to playing college basketball. If indeed some of those guys are frustrated, then Lou could go over, sit down and say, ‘You’ve got to keep plugging away. I was you two years ago.’”

Outside of Temple, Guzman has started reaching out to agents in hopes of establishing a basketball career somewhere, perhaps even in the Dominican Republic. He recently visited the island and spent time with his family there. The country’s poverty opened his eyes, and Guzman left basketball shorts and shoes behind when he returned to the United States. When he finishes playing basketball, Guzman said he might like to help out in the Dominican Republic and make a difference in the lives of the kids there.

For now, he said he just hopes to serve as a positive role model for his two younger brothers, ages 5 and 7. Guzman attended a recent parent-teacher conference with his mother, Vierka, and one of his brother’s teachers asked him who Luis Guzman No. 10 was. His brother had been drawing pictures of him, the Temple ‘T’ and basketballs. All Guzman wants, he said, is for his brothers to succeed more than he has as they grow up.

“One thing I always tell Lou is always be proud of your family. Be proud of where you come from. Be proud that you did it,” Dacons said. “He’s got two little brothers. I told him to tell them that he set the bar now, so they’ve got three-and-a-half years to get their college education. ‘You have three-and-a-half years to do what I did. You’ve got to get it done somehow.’ Even if they shoot for three-and-a-half years, and they get it done in four, they got it.”

Jennifer Reardon can be reached at jennifer.reardon@temple.edu.

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