PAINTING A PATH: How Amaya Finklea-Guity turned 2 ‘niches’ into Syracuse’s starting center

first_img Comments Published on November 4, 2019 at 1:12 am Contact Andrew: [email protected] | @CraneAndrew,Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment. Half of Amaya Finklea-Guity’s identity still hangs inside the Noble and Greenough (Massachusetts) School admissions office. Eight adjacent portraits of her classmates fill the wall, pieces of her project detailing the underrepresentation in social media for African American females. Art was a talent that Finklea-Guity had always used to relieve stress. After a poor basketball practice or rough day at school, she’d retreat into her room and search for paper or a canvas.The other half hangs on the walls of Rappaport Gymnasium, overlooking the school’s basketball court. She led Nobles to four straight Independent School League championships, made the jump from bench player to starter her sophomore year and became a primary offensive option.When Finklea-Guity began boarding at Nobles her junior year, she needed both hobbies to adjust. Living on campus was the first extended time she spent away from her single mother. The two FaceTimed every night — “best friends,” high school head coach Alex Gallagher called them — and Finklea-Guity would make the 20-minute drive home on weekends.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“The first few nights were tough,” Finklea-Guity said.She turned to art. Her senior year, she began to draw one portrait. Then, a second. Eventually, Finklea-Guity formed a collection of eight that stemmed into the larger project. But for years, she kept her talent hidden. Her dorm friends and basketball family were virtually the only people who Finklea-Guity let see her art.Finklea-Guity’s AAU coach Kim Benzan didn’t see Finklea-Guity’s work until she found a stray doodle lying around. For Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman, it wasn’t until Finklea-Guity showed him a bald eagle her second year at SU. Art was always a stress reliever, not a method to attract attention.,Since high school, she’s become more outgoing off the court and more vocal on it. She frequently uses an Instagram page to promote her work, and showcases it to her SU teammates. As SU turns to Finklea-Guity to take on an even larger role in 2019-20, she still leans on her other half.“It’s getting busy and hectic,” Finklea-Guity said at media day on Oct. 11, “and I just feel like I need something to calm me down.”She listed off her team’s recent stresses: losing their top two scorers from last year, bidding farewell to assistant coach Tammi Reiss, preparing to face low expectations after major roster turnover.A smile stretched across Finklea-Guity’s face.“And I look to drawing.”• • •Paula Guity sat nervously in the bleachers as her 10-year-old daughter stepped toward the scorer’s table. Finklea-Guity’s blue and white Jordan sneakers toed the sideline, her 5-foot-7 frame stood out and hid her limited knowledge of basketball. It was time to check into a game less than a week after the Boston Showstoppers reached out needing a center.During one of the first sequences, Finklea-Guity hovered in the paint as an opponent drove. “Amaya, put your hands up,” a coach shouted. She did and blocked the shot into a teammate’s arms.But Finklea-Guity didn’t sprint down the sideline in transition offense. She stayed in the paint on the defensive end, her hands still raised. “Amaya, you have to run too. Just run,” her coach yelled again. Paula began to worry from the stands as her daughter sprinted around aimlessly. Maybe she’d get hurt. Maybe she’d embarrass herself even more. But maybe, Paula thought as Finklea-Guity banked in her first points, she’d finally found the right sport for her daughter.“I know it was funny and everyone was chuckling because here’s this tall girl with glasses and she’s not sure where to go,” Paula said.It was supposed to be an experiment, just like cheerleading, dance, soccer, swimming, track and field and volleyball — a decade-long process to discover Finklea-Guity’s “niche,” a physical activity to complement her art and studies.Finklea-Guity didn’t like being the tallest dancer by a handful of inches, didn’t like to get her head wet while swimming, didn’t like to play soccer outdoors in the rain. Even though she hardly knew anything about basketball when she first started, her height gave her a natural advantage.Following her first game, Finklea-Guity and Paula began nightly practice sessions at local Boston parks. Paula pored through YouTube and dissected videos of Hakeem Olajuwon teaching LeBron James spin moves, Shot Science Basketball tutorials explaining post play and Blake Griffin’s rebounding guide.,Paula would toss the ball off the backboard to practice boxing out and put-backs and play defense while Finklea-Guity spun on the blocks or drove through contact. After her daughter mastered each move, Paula stood to the side as Finklea-Guity scored on an invisible defender.“I’m getting old, and I’m out of (shape), and she would just overpower me,” Paula said. “It’s something to see, because I’m not really a basketball player.”Her commitment to Finklea-Guity’s development allowed her daughter to quickly mold into a Division-I center. When Finklea-Guity suited up for four years at Nobles, Paula often arrived after practice to rebound for her daughter while other players finished up. At times, it was just the two of them in the gym.Paula, who separated with Finklea-Guity’s father before marriage, had longed to be a fashion designer growing up. Eventually, she switched paths toward human resources, but still helped Finklea-Guity trace shapes or finish drawings. Finklea-Guity grew to love her mother’s passion.“She was training so much and always playing basketball and always studying, that she felt like it was her relief to paint,” Paula said.,During the summer entering her senior year in high school, Finklea-Guity settled into a Carmelo K. Anthony Center viewing-room chair and turned her head toward a screen. Paula and Hillsman sat on both sides as highlights of former SU basketball player Kayla Alexander began to roll, the final stage of an official visit to Syracuse.Senior Bria Day hosted the pair, walking them through campus locations and accompanying them at a Prime Steak House dinner and Funk ‘n Waffles breakfast. Day, along with twin sister Briana, were the two backbones of an SU team that Finklea-Guity was slated to replace, should she agree with Hillsman’s pitch and commit. Hillsman listed the similarities between Finklea-Guity and Alexander: both quiet, both 6-foot-4, both life-long drawers — Alexander illustrated her own book, “The Magic of Basketball.”Finklea-Guity and Paula also realized that Hillsman was the only coach who asked what she wanted to work on most during her senior year. She responded with “fouling less.” The courting was nice, Paula said, but Finklea-Guity’s college decision came down to that meeting.“(Other coaches)didn’t appeal to her wanting to improve, and they just kept saying you’re going to be this, you’re going to be that,” Paula said.In Finklea-Guity’s first two years at Syracuse, she’s started 64 of 65 possible games, averaging 6.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and nearly a block per game in the center of SU’s 2-3 zone. This season, she’s primed to take on a bigger offensive load without Tiana Mangakahia and Miranda Drummond, multiple coaches and players said.“She’s talking more on defense, talking more on offense, she’s being more aggressive, she’s playing outside of her comfort zone,” senior Gabrielle Cooper said, “and that’s what we need.”The eight portraits hanging in the Nobles admissions office were painted by a different version of Finklea-Guity, Paula said. For all the drawings Command-hooked to her South Campus apartment wall since then, for all the Jay-Z and SpongeBob portraits revealed, for all the different colored nail-paintings before games, two specialties started to converge.Drawing had always come naturally. It just took a decade for basketball to mesh.Banner photo by Corey Henry | Photo Editorlast_img

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