NCAA Tournament: For Lyons, Arizona has become home sweet home
Senior guard Mark Lyons has found a home his second home at the University of Arizona.
Lyons spent his first three seasons at Xavier, graduated with one year of eligibility remaining and moved to Tucson for his final season of collegiate basketball.
Kentucky and Kansas were just two of the schools that wanted Lyons, but his long relationship with Arizona coach Sean Miller and other members of the coaching staff made the decision easy.
Miller & Co. had originally recruited Lyons to Xavier, before they moved to Arizona in 2009.
"That was a big factor," Lyons said. "I didn't want to go to a school and learn a whole new coaching staff and players. I felt comfortable with these guys. I've known them for years, and I trusted them with my last year."
Lyons calls Miller a "father figure."
"We're real close," he said. "Coming here was basically because of him. I mean, all the coaches on the staff are like father figures to me. I've known them since I was 15, 16 years old. So it was an easy decision to come here."
Said Miller: "Mark had a lot of choices last spring. He could have joined a lot of teams, and he decided to join us. ... We have a strong bond."
At Arizona, Lyons filled a huge void at point guard.
Coming off a 23-win season, the Wildcats' top returning players were forwards Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom and shooting guard Nick Johnson.
Miller had a top-five recruiting class on the way, but it lacked a point guard. So selling Lyons on Arizona was critical to the Wildcats' success.
"A couple of schools really wanted me to come and play point guard for them," Lyons said. "But I already knew [this] system, and I didn't have to learn too much."
There were, perhaps, some hard feelings over Lyons' decision to leave Xavier.
In a statement issued at the time, Musketeer coach Chris Mack said, "After our end-of-the-season meeting with Mark, it became apparent that a change for both parties was the right thing. ...
"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."
Mack wished Lyons well, which is exactly how he's played at Arizona.
In his first season in the Pac-12, Lyons averaged 14.8 points and 2.9 assists and was a first-team all-league selection. The Wildcats, who are 26-7 this season, can reach the Sweet 16 by defeating Harvard on Saturday at EnergySolutions Arena.
"We had this picture in our head when I came here," Lyons said. "We didn't expect anything less getting into the NCAA Tournament and trying to advance."
In Arizona's tournament-opening 81-64 win over Belmont on Thursday night, Lyons scored 23 points. Just a month earlier, he scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half during the Wildcats' 68-64 win over Utah at the Huntsman Center.
If Lyons is trying to audition for the Utah Jazz and other NBA teams by playing well in Salt Lake City, he's done an eye-opening job.
"Honestly, I just try to play and make plays," Lyons said. "Whether it's scoring or passing, I'm just trying to make the plays that help my team win games."
Professional basketball, however, is on Lyons' radar.
"I would love to be in the NBA some day," he said. "Hopefully, the scouts acknowledge my talents and, if not, there are other routes to get there."
Arizona vs. Harvard
O At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • Saturday, 4:10 p.m.
TV • TNT
Records • Arizona 26-7; Harvard 20-9
Series history • First meeting
About the Wildcats • They're seeking their third Sweet 16 berth in four years. ... In their last four games, opponents average 64.2 points. ... In their tournament opener, they limited Belmont to 39 percent shooting, including 7 for 27 in the first half.
About the Crimson • They're looking for the second NCAA win in school history. ... They are 1-0 against the Pac-12 this season. In December, they won at Cal, 67-62. ... In their tournament opener against New Mexico, they were outrebounded 34-26.
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