GREENVILLE – Clay Guillozet, a 2016 Greenville graduate was in town for a short Christmas break before returning to The Valdosta State University (VSU) Blazers to join his teammates on the basketball court under veteran coach Mike Helfer, an Ohio native.
“Love it,” Guillozet said of his visit home. “Obviously I’m a huge family guy so being able to see everybody, brother, sister – everybody is in town. It makes it really nice.”
Guillozet played his freshman season for the West Liberty Hilltoppers from the state of West Virginia before transferring to VSU the start of his sophomore year.
The GHS alum is in his second year starting for the Blazers, a team with a 10-1 record on the season and currently come in a ninth in the NABC DII Coaches pole with their only loss, a one-pointer coming on the road 71-70 to Lee University.
“We lost a close one, a tough one but 10-1 right now, ranked ninth in the country for DII so we are really enjoying it,” said Guillozet. “Everybody is really coming together and playing well. We’re really just kind of finding where we are and had a couple good wins here before the break.”
Now an upperclassman, Guillozet accepts a role helping new players learn the program.
“There are little niches in every system that make them all connect so on the surface you have the system, how it’s supposed to be run,” noted Guillozet. “Guys that are returning know the little ways you can break it off and help make the team more successful, so being able to identify that to the new guys and get them in on the culture that we have and the way we are, that is the biggest thing.”
With coaching ties to Ohio, VSU attracts its share of Ohio and northern state athletes to the highly successful basketball program under Helfer.
“One of my roommates and me are the only two from Ohio, but we have one from Michigan, one from New Jersey, one from Connecticut, one from New York so we have a bunch of norther guys – two of us from Ohio, one Wolverine, but we definitely made it aware when the football game went on this year between Ohio State and Michigan who was superior in that category,” Guillozet said with a chuckle.
“Coach Helfer is a really good guy, an excellent coach and he cares for us,” Guillozet said. “He knows how to put us in a position to be successful. At the end of the day it comes down to what we do but he does everything he can to put us and get us mentally and physically prepared and ready to go out and play.”
“We have the motto – ‘battle’ – so we break off every huddle with ‘battle,’” continued Guillozet. “Really just kind of who we are. We are going to go out there and battle and give everybody our best fight. We played Florida State (FSU’s final exhibition) this year. Had them within eight with a couple minutes left in the game, so just really going out there and battling no matter who we are playing against.”
Guillozet enjoys traveling to away games but must keep up with his studies while on the road.
“Our closest trips are around three hours,” said Guillozet. “We have some trips that are up to 12 hours so it is definitely different hopping on the big charter bus. Everybody gets their own row. You can kind of lay out and get comfortable but we are definitely going to get into a heavy load of traveling now that second semester is coming down and we’re getting into tournament play.”
A two year member of the National Honor Society at GHS, Guillozet continues to excel in the classroom a VSU and with excellent grades is not required to do team study table. Guillozet is carrying a 3.8 GPA. “Four A’s and one B, so can’t be too mad about that,” Guillozet stated.
“If your GPA is at a certain point you don’t have to go to study tables, so I don’t have to but they keep an eye on it,” noted Guillozet. “They keep an eye on everybody’s assignments, tests – all that. We have to do reports every couple weeks so they make sure all the guys are staying on top of it.”
“The pressures to do a really good job are more on the road,” Guillozet added, “The professors do a really good job, they understand. We have plenty of time on the road. Long trips we have Wi-Fi on the bus so you can take your laptop and still get our studying in.”
With the remainder of this season and a senior season still ahead, the 6’4” Guillozet is working towards his goal of playing professional basketball overseas while helping VSU continue its winning ways.
“I think Coach Helfer has sent someone overseas every year for the past 10 years or so,” Guillozet said. “He definitely has a history of sending players overseas. When we’re top ten and crack top five it helps get the whole team out there – and then doing things well for your team…that doesn’t go unnoticed.”
Valdosta and surrounding areas support the VSU sports program including this year’s National Championship football team.
“We do really have a good following,” Guillozet said. “Our football team just won the ACA Division II National Championship so we are going to have even more fans coming in – a lot of them were at the football games.”
“Our gym holds a little over 5,000 and as the year goes on, we keep winning, more fans start to pack in. Last year we about had it sold out a few times so we get a really good following, a couple thousand in there and I makes it really nice for those home games when you go on a little bit of a run maybe a 10-0 run but it feels like a 20-0 run where you have the fans going crazy behind you.”
Guillozet holds many GHS football and basketball records and was pleased to visit with his former high school football coach, Aaron Shaffer, while in town taking in a Saturday night home basketball game.
“Super excited for him,” Guillozet said of Coach Shaffer’s new role as Greenville’s new Athletic Director. “He’s a great fit, he’s a great leader and he really cares for everybody. It’s a huge role. He has to be there for all the sports. I’m really happy for him. I know he enjoys it and he’s perfect fit for the job.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Valdosta State’s Clay Guillozet and his former GHS football coach, Aaron Shaffer, Greenville’s new athletic director at Saturday’s home basketball game. (Gaylen Blosser photo)