Lyons’ transfer to Arizona assures highly competitive practices with McConnellby Javier Morales on May. 07, 2012, under Sports
During Lute Olson’s golden years at Arizona, the bench players — especially those high in the rotation — could start for most Pac-10 teams.
That was as much a key to Olson’s success with the Wildcats as was his X’s and O’s and recruiting ability. Mike Bibby practicing daily against backup Jason Terry, for example, was an important element for Arizona in its championship run of 1996-97. Bibby and Terry — both veteran NBA players now — were adequately prepared for any challenge they faced that season.
The verbal commitment of former Xavier point guard Mark Lyons to Arizona on Sunday means that coach Sean Miller will experience something similar to what Olson had with Bibby and Terry. Lyons vs. former Atlantic 10 rival T.J. McConnell, a transfer from Duquesne who must sit next season per NCAA transfer rules, is Miller’s version of prolific scoring point guard Damon Stoudamire working against defensive-minded backup Reggie Geary during the 1992-93 season.
McConnell, a sophomore this season, and Lyons, a junior, were All-Atlantic 10 third-team selections. McConnell was selected to the conference’s All-Defensive team. Lyons is also a solid defender, but he prides himself on his playmaking and scoring ability. He averaged 15.1 points a game for the Musketeers. He also led Xavier in three-point shooting percentage (39.2) and attempts from beyond the arc (148, making a team-high 58).
Lyons will be immediately eligible for his senior season with the Wildcats because he is expected to fulfill his undergraduate requirements at Xavier this semester. He will enroll this summer in a master’s program at Arizona that Xavier does not offer. Although McConnell is unable to play in 2012-13, he is allowed to practice. That is a significant bonus for Miller and his coaching staff.
A daily battle will exist between Lyons and McConnell, who have faced each other twice in their collegiate careers. Xavier won both games. McConnell was actually matched more against Tu Holliday at the point in both games, but the former Duquesne guard was also matched often against Lyons.
Lyons struggled in both games, scoring only two points in Xavier’s 78-50 win over visiting Duquesne on Jan. 11 and just six points in the 2010 game, won by Xavier 71-63. McConnell had six points in each game but symbolic of his scrappy play, he had three steals in each contest.
Lyons vs. McConnell is one of a few matchups in practice that Miller and his staff are anticipating.
Others likely include sophomore Nick Johnson going against junior Jordin Mayes and/or freshman Gabe York. Hill may be matched against Parrom, unless he and Parrom both start at the small forward and power forward positions. Chol, a sophomore, will battle at the power forward and post positions against newcomers Grant Jarrett, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski.
Miller also has former Sabino High School and Cochise College power forward Matt Korcheck, a burly 6-foot-6 and 220-pound player to push his weight around in practice, and freshman walk-on guard Jacob Hazzard to use in practice situations. Hazzard is the grandson of the late Walt Hazzard, a former UCLA guard and coach.
The Lyons-McConnell matchup remains to be seen whether it can reach the Bibby-Terry and Stoudamire-Geary magnitude — those pairs ultimately reached the Final Four. Steve Kerr pitted against Kenny Lofton in practice in 1987-88 also produced positive results as the UA reached its first Final Four that season.
In the UA’s other Final Four season of 2000-01, point guard Jason Gardner mostly went against former junior college player Lamont Frazier in practice, but other positions were highlighted by intense battles. Those included future NBA players Richard Jefferson and Luke Walton challenging each other, and veteran Eugene Edgerson and Rick Anderson testing starters Michael Wright and Loren Woods at the power forward and post positions.
Arizona’s lack of quality depth in recent years has precluded it from the NCAA tournament in two of Miller’s first three seasons. That was a result of Olson’s sudden retirement before the 2007-08 season and the stagnant recruiting efforts that took place under the interim leadership of Kevin O’Neill and Russ Pennell. It appears that Miller has Arizona back on track with a wealth of depth and promising results should follow.