“The Hurdler” and his coach

Bucks’ Ayon, Peterson enjoying their partnership

Gustavo Ayon, like a lot of his National Basketball Association contemporaries, played a variety of sports when he was a youngster.

Ayon, who was born in Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico, where he and his friends were into football, baseball and basketball.

Ayon doesn’t mention track and field as one of his sports of choice, but he has made it abundantly clear during his two seasons in the National Basketball Association that he is a very adept hurdler.

The 6-foot-10-inch, 250-pound forward/center, acquired by the Milwaukee Bucks along with J.J. Redick and Ish Smith in a Feb. 21, 2013 trade for Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb and Beno Udrih, speaks little English.  Ayon, though, has been able to clear whatever language barriers he has encountered to become a productive NBA player.

He has enjoyed his brief time in Milwaukee and said his coaches and teammates have helped him get acclimated to the team and the city.

“I’m feeling good,” Ayon said. “I like the players, and this team has been very good for me.  I like Milwaukee, too. It’s comfortable for me.”

Ayon said one individual has been most beneficial in easing his transition onto the team and into the city.

“Coach Bill Peterson has really helped me a lot since I got here,” he said.

Peterson, who is in his sixth season as a Bucks assistant coach, began carving his NBA niche as a developmental coach with the Dallas Mavericks. He helped such young players as Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Michael Finley and Greg Buckner develop into productive pros and find a comfort zone within the NBA lifestyle.

Peterson has enjoyed working with Ayon, and has covered some of the same ground he did with Nowitzki shortly after he arrived from his native Germany in the United States.

“Gustavo’s a really good kid – really down-to-earth,” Peterson said. “There were hurdles with Dirk Nowitzki, too. He spoke little English back then. When I was in college, I worked with a guy from Lithuania who spoke real broken English. When Ersan Ilyasova first got here (from Turkey), he struggled with his English, too.

“I used to ask people when I was in Dallas, ‘How would you do if you took your son or daughter to Germany and they were 19 and didn’t speak the language? You got them there, you got them an apartment and then you left them. How would they fend? How would they do?"

“It’s the reverse for these guys. They’re pros, but it’s tough sometimes for them to understand everything. I think you have to have a little empathy for them and try to help them as much as you can.”

Ayon was raised in a small town where he received very little exposure to basketball. He played junior varsity basketball for two seasons before pursuing the sport more aggressively.

“It was difficult to watch TV,” Ayon said. “We didn’t watch a lot of it. We just played. Basketball was my favorite sport, but I didn’t start playing basketball very, very seriously until I was 18. I didn’t see much basketball on TV until I got to college (at the University of Puebla).”

Once Ayon did start watching basketball, he discovered a pretty exemplary role model.

“I liked Luis Scola (now with the Phoenix Suns),” he said. “He’s a really good player. I watched him play for the Argentia National Team. I really enjoyed watching that guy.”

Peterson is familiar with Ayon’s upbringing.

“He doesn’t come from a real wealthy background,” Peterson said. “He has obviously had some hard knocks. He’s cleared a lot of hurdles in his past.

“I think he has a lot of promise and a lot of potential. You can’t teach some of the things he has. I enjoy working with him. I see promise. I always tend to look at the good things a guy does rather than focus on the bad things. It’s easy to say that a guy doesn’t do this or he doesn’t do that, but I believe he has some good gifts.

“I’ve worked with enough guys to know that if a player has a good feel for offense and can move the ball and pass the ball, then I think he can pick things up defensively, too.”

Ayon still has hurdles in front of him, but he and Peterson will continue taking them on together.

“The first thing we did was convey to him that we care about him, and that he has a good future here,” Peterson said. “He has a lot of potential. Obviously there are some hurdles, but we can overcome those together. We have to keep working at it. We can’t give in and quit when it gets tough. We try to spend extra time with him before practice and after practice and in pregame warm-ups.

“He has talent, and he has a good feel for the game. Just because he doesn’t have a mastery of the English language doesn’t mean that we can’t use him to our benefit and to his. We can help him be better, and he can help our team be better.”

Some of those hurdles are cleared using demonstration rather than a lot of verbage.

“There is more demonstration and more touch to it,” Peterson said. “You have to guide players like Gustavo through some things. Obviously, he wouldn’t be in the NBA if he didn’t have talent. He’s had a couple of really good games for us. He basically helped us win the game in Sacramento.”

Ayon was not drafted by an NBA franchise. He played for the Mexican National Team in the 2007 and 2009 FIBA Americas Championships. He spent two seasons with Fuenlabrada in the ACB League, Spain’s top division, which is widely regarded as the best domestic league outside of the NBA.

He was named the 2010-11 ACB Best Newcomer after averaging 10.8 points and 6.3 rebounds in 22.6 minutes per outing and shooting 67 percent from the field in 33 games. Earlier, he played with Vaqueros de Agua Prieta in Venezuela, winning the domestic championship; and spent 2006-09 playing professionally in Mexico with Halcones de Xalapa, leading the team to back-to-back championships in 2007-08 and 2008-09. He was a Mexican League All-Star in 2009.

Ayon signed as a free agent with the New Orleans Hornets on Dec. 21, 2011 and averaged 5.9 points and 4.9 rebounds in 54 games with the Hornets last season. He was dealt to Orlando in a sign-and-trade deal for Ryan Anderson on July 11, 2012, and was averaging 3.6 points and 3.3 rebounds through 43 games with the Magic this season. He tied his career high with 16 points and set a career high with six assists against Portland on Feb. 10 and grabbed a season-high 13 rebounds at Toronto on Dec. 21.

Ayon saw little action during his first few weeks with Milwaukee. He made his Bucks debut March 6 against the Los Angeles Clippers and scored two points, then came up with 12 points and seven rebounds in a 14-minute stint at Sacramento on March 10.

“It felt good being out there in a game,” Ayon said. “I tried to bring energy.”

Through April 1, Ayon had played seven games with the Bucks, scoring 25 points and grabbing 20 rebounds in 70 minutes. He was shooting .667 from the field.
And he has been an extremely willing student of the game.

“If you want, you can use anything as an excuse,” Peterson said. “You can say you don’t speak English. You can say you don’t understand. But Gustavo is willing to learn and willing to work. 

“You can’t teach some of the things he has. He’s a big, strong kid. He’s got really good hands. He’s got a great feel for the game. He makes some really great passes. It’ll be interesting to see, with a training camp, how he does. It’ll be a little different teaching setting for him.”

Gustavo Ayon