Men's hoops guide: A changing of the guard
Mark Lyons embraces his roots.
An outline of upstate New York is tattooed on Lyons’ right shoulder.
His hometown of Schenectady, N.Y. is about 160 miles away from the Bronx, where Kevin Parrom hails from.
Parrom, Arizona’s sixth man, believes New Yorkers are supposed be tough and strong. They are supposed to have confidence.
Lyons, the Xavier transfer point guard, has confidence in spades.
Some people might mistake that for cockiness, a criticism that plagued ex-Wildcat, fellow New Yorker and Lyons’ friend Lamont “Momo” Jones before he transferred to Iona last year.
Similar to Jones, Lyons’ ability as a ‘natural point guard’ is often questioned because of his shoot-first mentality, but Lyons doesn’t worry about that. He just wants to win.
“I hear things but I just take every day and enjoy the process,” Lyons said. “People are gonna doubt us, people are gonna hate us. I just come out and get better every day.”
He wants to be the next great member of Arizona’s Point Guard U, and he’s ecstatic about the chance to join a pantheon of talented point men.
Now in Tucson, after four years in Ohio, Lyons is as happy as he’s ever been.
“I wake up every day, it’s sunny outside,” he said about Arizona’s November heat, a far cry from what he’s used to from growing up in New York or playing for the Musketeers in Cincinnati.
“I wake up in a better mood every day,” Lyons said. “I wake up with a smile on my face.”
He was smiling eight months ago too, when he was in the midst of his third NCAA tournament and on the way to his second career Sweet 16.
“He’s had one dynamic career,” said UA head coach Sean Miller, who recruited Lyons to Xavier when he was the Musketeers’ head coach.
Xavier was a No. 10 seed and was set to take on Baylor, a No. 3, in the regional semifinals.
The Bears burst out of the gate with a 22-4 lead, and Xavier went into halftime trailing by seven.
At that point, Lyons was 0-for-5 with three points.
In the second half, though, he took over.
“We were down so I just felt I had to go into scoring mode and get my team back in the game,” Lyons said.
He scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half, helping Xavier to get to within three points with about 12 seconds remaining, but that wasn’t enough and Baylor won 75-70.
That would prove to be the end of Lyons’ Musketeer career, as exactly one month later, head coach Chris Mack announced that Lyons wouldn’t be returning for the 2012-13 season.
“After our end of the season meeting with Mark it became apparent that a change for both parties was the right thing moving forward,” Mack saidat the time. “During our meeting expectations were outlined for his fifth and final season, areas in which I believe needed improvement. Mark did not recognize these expectations as being important and ultimately it was decided that a change of scenery would be in his best interest. I wish Mark well.”
In December, Lyons and three other Musketeers were suspended for their roles in a brawl that prematurely ended the annual “Crosstown Shootout” rivalry game against Cincinnati, so Mack’s decision didn’t come completely out of left field. But, prior to the announcement, Lyons had every intention of completing his college career at Xavier.
It didn’t work out that way, and he made the decision to reunite with Miller, his first college coach.
“Its one of the harder decisions I’ve had to make in my life,” said Lyons, who also considered Kentucky. “But I felt like the guys here, coaching staff here was there for me from the start so [it’s] only right that I finish with them.”
Arizona assistant coach Book Richardson, and later Miller, began their relationship with Lyons about eight years ago when Miller was still the head coach at Xavier.
He never had the chance to actually play for him though, as he was academically ineligible his freshmen season, which was Miller’s last before he became the head coach at Arizona.
“When we recruited Mark a long time ago, the word that came to me is competitiveness,” Miller said. “He hates to lose. He is a great competitor. He can impact the game in a lot of ways.”
Miller cited his competitive fire as something that can “really be contagious.” Lyons is vocal, and considers himself a leader, but he comes to the UA with a unique situation.
He’s a senior, but in his first year.
Since he already graduated from Xavier, and was ineligible his freshman year, Lyons was able to transfer anywhere he wanted without having to sit out a year.
For him, Arizona was a no-brainer, and Miller was ready to welcome him with open arms. But he was more concerned with his potential future teammates.
So, he texted Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Nick Johnson and asked how they would feel about his transferring to the UA. They approved.
“To hear it from my teammates’ mouth is more important than my coaches’,” Lyons said.
It was an easy and emphatic ‘yes’ from the team’s leaders. Last year, the Wildcats got burned by Josiah Turner. The highly-touted freshman guard became more known for his troubles off the court — he was suspended three times and arrested for a DUI — than his performance on it, where he averaged 6.8 points and 2.4 assists per game.
Lyons scored 1,194 points in his Xavier career, more than any active Wildcat.
“He gives us confidence at the point guard,” Hill said. “That’s someone we don’t have to worry about, he’s a grown man.”
People outside the Arizona locker room question his ability at the point guard position. In college, he’s never averaged more than 3.1 assists per game, but he attributes that more to ex-Musketeer Tu Holloway running the point than anything else.
Now, the point guard position is all his. At a program dubbed “Point Guard U” for its impressive history at the position, Lyons is aware of the pressure being placed on him.
Lyons looked up to the likes of Steve Kerr, Salim Stoudamire and Jason Gardner growing up.
Now, it’s his turn to be mentioned in the pantheon of great Arizona point men.
“Honestly, I’m just here for one year,” Lyons said. “Coach knows what he’s getting from me and I know what I’m getting from him. My teammates can count on me. They had great point guards in the past, I’m just trying to be another one.”