Denton: "Goose" Ready to Play on Home Turf


By John Denton
October 5, 2012

ORLANDO – Gustavo Ayon is about to become the first Mexican-born player ever to compete in a NBA game in his homeland. But, for him, the excitement over Sunday’s exhibition game centers more around his new opportunity with the Orlando Magic.

Ayon, acquired by the Magic in a July trade with the New Orleans Hornets, is slated to receive the start at center in front of his home countrymen in the NBA’s Mexico Game.

Undoubtedly, the opportunity to be cheered on by fellow Mexicans and approximately 60 family members will be special. But Ayon is looking for a satisfaction that is more long-lasting and fulfilling. He wants to become a gritty two-way player who will help stabilize the center position in Orlando following the departure of superstar Dwight Howard.

So while Ayon was somewhat shocked and honored to hear that he would be starting Sunday’s 2:30 p.m. game against the Hornets, he was more worried about playing well so that he will eventually become a fixture in the Magic’s rotation.

``I was happy to hear of the decision, but I want it to be for the right reasons,’’ Ayon said through an interpreter. ``If it’s because I play well or if it is because they like me, then I like it. I like the decision more if it’s because of that – not because I’ll be playing in my country.’’

Ayon, all 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds of him, certainly is no charity case for the Magic. He played well as a rookie in New Orleans and has had a slight edge over Nikola Vucevic and Kyle O’Quinn so far in training camp. And Ayon acquitted himself quite well last season in New Orelans, ranking second among all rookies in field goal percentage, fifth in rebounding and blocked shots and 19th in scoring.

Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn came to camp already familiar with Ayon, having scouted him extensively last season while working as an assistant in San Antonio. Also, Vaughn’s top assistant, James Borrego, worked with Ayon last season with the Hornets. Ayon, affectionately known to his teammates and coaches as ``Goose,’’ has brought his physical and hustling ways with him to Orlando and Vaughn has liked the work he’s put in so far.

``We broke up our scouting last year (in San Antonio) and New Orleans was one of the teams I had a close eye on and I kept a really close eye on how Goose played,’’ Vaughn said. ``Coach Borrego and I know how hard he plays and how the little things that he does end up being pretty big.’’

The exhibition game will begin a new era in Magic history what with Vaughn along the sidelines, Ayon at center and several other new faces on the roster. GM Rob Hennigan was hired in June to restructure the team, and he’s done so without Howard, who was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers in August. Whereas some have predicted a long climb ahead for the Magic, Vaughn said he’ll be looking for hustle and incremental gains in each game and each day of the season.

``I’m looking for us to compete against someone else and see if the things that we have been working on actually work,’’ said Vaughn, who is in his first head coaching job. ``It gives our guys a chance to use their skills and see what happens.’’

The Magic scrimmaged for two hours on Friday and then departed for Mexico City. The team is slated to conduct a basketball clinic with Special Olympics athletes on Saturday, practice in the afternoon and then attend a reception with the U.S. Ambassador. The team will return to Orlando following Sunday afternoon’s game, which will be televised nationally by NBA TV.

The Magic’s first home preseason game will be Thursday night at the Amway Center against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Ayon grew up approximately 450 miles outside of Mexico City, and he will be well-represented by a group of family members and friends bussing to the game. The Magic helped him arrange for tickets, so his supporting cast should be plentiful. Not that he will need it since much of the Mexican crowd already consider him a favorite son for rising out of the Mexican League and to the NBA.

``My family has taken care of all the arrangements on how to get to the game, so I haven’t had the need to do anything on my end,’’ Ayon said. ``I didn’t need to purchase any tickets for them (because) the team facilitated those for me. Since the other guys on the team have not requested any tickets I get to have all their tickets as well.’’

Ayon’s willingness to do the dirty work under the glass has made him an instant favorite with his teammates. He is a man of few words in the locker room because of somewhat of a language barrier, but coaches and teammates have said that the 27-year-old center understands all of the basketball concepts quite well in English.

``He’s very energetic, he’s smart with the ball and he gets on the boards really well,’’ Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. ``He’s a guy who is really able to play with a lot of energy on both ends of the court, which is a big key for him.’’

And just how much Spanish have Ayon and Nelson shared up to this point? Said Nelson: ``I told him, `Mi casa, es su casa.’’’

Ayon said trying to live up to the legacy that Howard left in Orlando would be foolish, especially since he is an entirely different kind of player. He thrives most when he’s being physical, when he’s chasing down loose balls and when he’s freeing up teammates on pick-and-roll plays.

``I always try to take advantage of the pick and roll either for me or for my teammates,’’ he said. ``I’m always moving and I’m never static or standing still waiting to see if something happens. I’m always in movement looking for an option.’’

As an added perk, he’ll be facing the same New Orleans team on Sunday that he spent last season with. The Hornets massively retooled their roster by trading for Ryan Anderson, drafting Anthony Davis and Orlando-native Austin Rivers and re-signing Eric Gordon.

Seeing some of his old friends on the Hornets and some of his family members while in Mexico will be nice. But again Ayon is more focused on making Sunday’s game the start of something meaningful and lasting with the Magic.

``It’s more important for me to play in front of my family, in front of my fans, and it’s just an added bonus to play against my former team,’’ Ayon said. ``I just want to do my best for my team.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997. E-mail John at jdenton@orlandomagic.com or follow him on Twitter at @JohnDenton555.

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