Can Mark Lyons work at Arizona?

May, 7, 2012
5/07/12
4:35
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Really, the move made perfect sense.

Arizona coach Sean Miller knows Xavier guard Mark Lyons well; Miller and his former Musketeers staff recruited Lyons at Xavier. Miller needs a point guard, now that Josiah Turner has officially flamed out and left to play for Larry Brown at SMU. Lyons needed a place that needed a point guard; he knows any hope he has of a pro career depends on it. Lyons visited Tucson, met with Miller and his staff, and the deal was sealed: Lyons would use his graduate transfer exemption to join the Arizona Wildcats in 2012-13. There was nothing surprising about this development. Suspense sold separately.

And yet, for as much sense as it makes, I can't help but think the move carries its fair share of risk, too.

[+] EnlargeMark Lyons
Richard Mackson/US PresswireMark Lyons appears to be a good fit for the Wildcats, but questions over how he'll mesh with a young, promising team remain.
Not that Lyons isn't saying the right things. He hit all the notes in a Sunday interview with the Arizona Daily Star:
"I knew I wanted to be at Arizona, but I had to make sure I gave it a fair shot," Lyons said. "That was the great thing about me coming out here. … It was a great, great place. They showed me everything and I know what I'm getting in the coaches and the program. I'm going to come there and just try to win."

"Those are some good guys. They are all about winning," Lyons said. "They welcomed me with open arms. [...] Whatever they want me to do, I'm going to do it. I've been to the Sweet 16 three times, and (UA coaches) want to go to the Final Four. That's what I'm going to try to get myself ready for."

The only problem is that this hasn't always been Lyons' M.O., which, when you read Xavier coach Chris Mack's statement on Lyons' transfer in April, was abundantly clear. That statement:
"After our end of the season meeting with Mark it became apparent that a change for both parties was the right thing moving forward," said Mack. "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."

Lyons has never acknowledged these "areas" in which his coach believed he needed to improve. In fact, he hasn't even mentioned them. Instead, Lyons has maintained his transfer is all about his career trajectory and his hope to make it to the NBA as a ballhandling, scoring point guard. "I’m looking for a program that wins where I could play a major role,” Lyons told the Cincinnati Enquier's Shannon Russell, at which point one had to ask: Doesn't Xavier fit that criteria? And if so, why transfer?

The truth is, problems between Lyons and his coach came to a head often in 2012. When I saw them lose to Gonzaga on New Year's Eve this past winter, Lyons fired more than his fair share of bad shots, much to his coach's occasionally animated dismay. The offensive struggles Xavier experienced before their late-season Sweet 16 run had as much to do with freelancing, disjointed, and even selfish offense -- not just by Lyons, but, yes, often by him -- as it did any hangover from the Musketeers' infamous Dec. 10 brawl with Cincinnati.

All of which may not matter at Arizona. Miller is not the kind of coach to let star players, self-appointed or otherwise, dictate their own terms. And it may be that Lyons' experience and ability outweigh any supposed personality flaws. But that experience cuts both ways. Miller's 2012-13 Wildcats -- the product of a truly great, No. 3-ranked recruiting class -- will be a young, developing team throughout the season. It is not difficult for young teams to fall into bad habits. Will Lyons' strong personality dictate that trajectory? Will he be able to take a complementary role when younger and more talented, but less experienced, players shine? Or will he be characteristically concerned with his shots and numbers, his future career -- the impetus for his transfer in the first place -- to the detriment of himself and the team?

Those are the key questions Lyons will have to answer in his one-year stay at Arizona. The move made so much sense for a reason: If it pays off, everyone, especially Arizona and Lyons, wins.

And so the decision was easy. Yet there is reason to believe the road ahead, as promising as it looks on paper, could be more difficult.

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