The Arizona Wildcats have senior wings in Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom. They have a quartet of young, promising post players. They have a pair of returning combo guards.
Mark Lyons completes them.
The graduate transfer from Xavier was able to settle in to the point guard position before the start of classes this week, going through 10 practices and then a couple of exhibition games in the Bahamas. He’s reunited with Arizona coach Sean Miller, and it feels so good.
“I got away from recognizing that maybe the best thing he does is how quick he is on defense,” said Miller, who recruited Lyons to Xavier and coached him during the 2008-09 season, when Lyons redshirted as a partial qualifier.
“He’s very old by today’s standards of college basketball. He’s been through a ton of practices. He’s been in big games. He not only has ability on defense, but he has the know-how.”
Lyons (6-1, 188) is exactly what the Wildcats needed. Really, he’s exactly what almost any college team needs. Lyons is a talented and experienced — usually you get only one or the other in today’s college basketball world.
Consider: He has scored 1,194 career points. Been third-team All-Atlantic 10. Played in three NCAA Tournaments. He is 23 years old. That’s two years older than Derrick Williams.
Yeah, Miller would trade Josiah Turner for Mark Lyons every day of the week.
“It’s so unique to add a guy with his mindset and his experience on the defensive end,” said Miller, who has to replace defensive stopper Kyle Fogg as well as the troubled Turner, who left after his freshman season, signing this week with a pro team in Hungary.
“Getting Mark really helps us on that end. You don’t often think in those teams when you have a new player; you think more of offense.”
Yes, there has been a lot of focus on Lyons’ offense, his ability to transition from playing more of a two-guard role at Xavier in the same backcourt as star Tu Holloway. Lyons averaged 15.1 points and shot 39.2 percent from 3-point range (58 of 148) last season for the Musketeers’ Sweet 16 team.
“A lot of people say I was a shooting guard at Xavier, but a lot of it was whoever brought the ball up,” Lyons said. “Me and Tu Holloway, it’s not a really big difference. I was always a point guard in high school. I’m just happy to play my natural position full-time now.”
Miller won’t try to quell Lyons’ scoring instincts or curb his driving tendencies.
“Point guards have to be themselves,” Miller said.
“There are always going to be those times when he will look to score. I think that comes more natural to him. Just being able to run our team, being able to make clever plays, make his teammates better … his experience is his greatest gift there.”
Unlike most transfers, Lyons needed little break-in time at his new destination. Chris Mack, who succeeded Miller at Xavier, kept much of Miller’s systems. Lyons knows how to play Miller’s pack-line defense. Knows the practice drills. Is able to absorb any tweaks to the offense.
And there’s something to be said about walking in to Arizona having been to three Sweet 16s, including one while he was redshirting. Basketball cred.
“There is nothing I can really tell this guy that he doesn’t know,” Hill said. “It feels good to have somebody with experience on my side.
“I think everyone just respects him because of his resume, because of his work ethic. It’s not like he’s coming in demanding attention. He’s working just as hard as everybody else, if not harder. The guys respect that. …
“Guys believe in him, I believe in him … we roll with that.”
Everyone says the 10 practices and the foreign trip were great for team bonding. Lyons fit right in. Hill notes that Lyons, from Schenectady, N.Y., is your typical East Coast point guard — not short of on-court attitude and not shy about speaking up.
Arizona had a guy like that a couple of seasons ago in MoMo Jones.
“He has the same verbal as Momo,” Hill said.
“MoMo was a very verbal guy, made sure everybody was on point, and he’s a guy who has been there. He played with Tu Holloway, who is a great player. You talk about being able to control egos; he can control egos.”
Said Lyons: “I’ve always been the type of guy who tries to keep people accountable. Coach Miller installed that in me my freshman year — be accountable, be accountable. That stuck with me for four years.”
Now, all that’s left is a big fifth year.
“I just feel welcome right now,” he said.
That’s definitely a mutual feeling.