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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Experienced Lyons bringing championship mindset to Arizona

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Curtis Compton
Xavier's Mark Lyons gets in some practice at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday, March 22, 2012. Xavier meets Baylor on Friday in the NCAA Tournament's South Region. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/MCT)

After losing Momo Jones last year, coupled with Josiah Turner’s inability to stay out of trouble or produce for Arizona, the point guard position was a question last season, to say the least.

Among the new faces on the Wildcats this year is fifth-year senior transfer guard Mark Lyons, who is expected to be the UA’s new starting point guard. Lyons isn’t looking at what happened last year, rather he is keeping his eye on the prize.

“I’m trying to win a championship,” said Lyons at a Thursday press conference. “I just want to win. Winning takes care of everything.”

Lyons adds experience and know-how to a point guard position that faced depth questions following Turner’s exit from the program.

The New York native has played in 98 career collegiate games, but did not play his freshman season at Xavier, under current UA head coach Sean Miller. The relationship between Miller and Lyons was the main reason Lyons turned down offers from Kentucky and Kansas to reunite with Miller in Tucson.

“I know Mark Lyons in very unique way,” Miller said. “He’s old in terms of college basketball. It’s so unique to add a guy with his mindset and experience.”

Since arriving on campus in July, Lyons has been getting to know his teammates off the court in an effort to build team chemistry, which senior forward Solomon Hill said is already better than last year.

“I’m trying to become their friends,” Lyons said. “There’s life after college basketball. That makes it easier, trying to build friendship and then basketball.”

So far, Lyons and his vocal New York personality have helped to unite a team that could feature as many as four new starters come November in the regular season opener.

“He fits in great,” Hill said. “He’s as verbal as Momo. He makes sure everyone is on point. He can control egos, keep guys in line.”

At times in practice, Hill said that he has noticed Lyons becoming vocal.

“He’s yelling at you because [he] sees a good player in you,” Hill explained. “There’s nothing I can tell this guy that he doesn’t know.”

The cross-country transition from Ohio to Arizona has been easier than expected for Lyons, as he played in almost 100 games running Miller’s offense at Xavier. For the Musketeers, Lyons played the shooting guard position, allowing star point guard Tu Holloway to run the offense.

For the Wildcats, Lyons has an opportunity to move back to point guard, but old habits may be hard to break. In order for Arizona’s now bigger offense to work, Lyons will have to be able to feed the ball in the paint to the Wildcats’ forwards, including sophomore Angelo Chol and freshman Kaleb Tarczewski.

Lyons’ transition from off-ball movement to playing almost exclusively with the ball in his hands may be difficult in the early games, but Miller acknowledged that he has to let Lyons be himself in an offense he’s comfortable in.

“Point guards have to be themselves,” Miller, who played point guard in college, said. “To try and make him someone who doesn’t think ‘scoring’ doesn’t allow him to be the best basketball player he can be. Scoring comes more natural to him. It’s not like we’re trying to teach someone who’s never played how to play basketball.”

The Wildcats were able to lure Lyons to the UA not only because of Miller and Lyons’ familiarity with the coach’s system, but also because of the UA’s reputation as Point Guard U, a designation that came about thanks to the contributions of former Wildcats like Salim Stoudamire, Mike Bibby and Jason Gardner, who Lyons said he idolized as a child.

“Point Guard U is what they kept selling to me,” Lyons said. “I wanted to be the next great point guard as a kid.”

After an undergraduate career in which he scored more than 1,000 pointsfor the Musketeers and three Sweet 16 appearances in three seasons, Lyons, now a graduate student, has more time than his undergraduate teammates to devote to his game, and is trying to adjust to the difference in universities while pursuing a graduate degree.

“It’s my last year,” Lyons said. “I’ve been in college long enough. I’m trying to roll through and see how far we can go.”

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