UA benefits from Lyons’ confidence, versatility

TUCSON, Ariz. — So is he a point guard or a shooting guard? Does it really matter when it comes to Arizona senior Mark Lyons, who’s expected to be the player UA has been in search of for the last two or three years in the backcourt?

Arizona has had quality shooting guards in the past: Damon Stoudamire, Miles Simon, Jason Gardner, Jason Terry, et al.

First, let’s get it straight: Lyons, a 6-foot-1 transfer from Xavier, can handle the ball and shoot it with consistency. He’ll show it again as UA ends its exhibition season Tuesday at home against Chico State. The regular season begins against Charleston Southern on Sunday.

“I told my teammates when I got here that I’m just a basketball player,” said Lyons, making sure they know he can handle each position. “I’m going to make the right plays on the court. If someone is open, I’m going to get them the ball. (But) if I’ve got the opportunity, I’m going to take it.

“When I’m on the court, I take the mentality that the guys I’m with are the best on the court. I try to instill that in my teammates so we have a lot of confidence on the court.”

If there’s one thing Lyons doesn’t lack, it’s confidence. You see it in warmups. You see it in his strut. Lyons has a swagger about him. When he has the ball, it’s even more pronounced. He’s in control.

He’s what former Arizona guard MoMo Jones wanted to be a couple of years ago but was too young to handle. He may be that way now with a couple of more years of experience behind him, but Iona is reaping the benefits. Arizona will benefit from Lyons. It’s no surprise both are from New York. They have that chip-on-their-shoulder style.

We’ll see how Lyons works out. Arizona has been here before with the aforementioned Jones and Khalid Reeves, the native New Yorker who was an enigmatic guard who both wowed and lulled fans throughout his career before turning it on at the end to become one of the school’s all-time best.

Lyons is already entering the final year of his career, so he’s a veteran with a cause — and game.

“He wants to win,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “I think he knows that we have a team that can do that. And he’s learning a new system, but I don’t think he looks at the system and rolls his eyes. I think he leans on someone like Solomon (Hill) or me to teach him.

“And what I found is he’s hungry to become better at playing the point. He wants to do the things that we ask him to do.”

His resume will show that he helped guide Xavier to 73 wins, two Atlantic 10 titles and three NCAA tournament appearances, with the Musketeers reaching the Sweet 16 all three times. Lyons knows success.

“You can tell that he’s been through wars,” said Hill, also a senior. “He’s been through stages with the Xavier team, teams that have been to the tournament numerous times, and he’s hungry. Just as hungry as I am to get back to the NCAA tournament.”

Hill said Lyons’ determination shows in practice. They always get into arguments.

“It’s just because we want each other to push each other,” Hill said.

They’ll likely share the leadership duties all year. Hill said at the Pac-12 media gathering that the two bonded well in UA’s 108-67 win over Humboldt State.

“I think we kept the guys composed,” Hill said. “And I love his energy on the court. He’s a whole different basketball player when he’s on the court. He makes plays, he makes things happen for you.”

Based on his play against Humboldt State, it appears Lyons has a good understanding of when to pass and when to shoot. He had five assists (a couple of no-look ones), four rebounds and 15 points, 12 coming on 3-pointers.

He strikes a nice balance of shooter and disher.

“It’s great to feel confident in our point guard, knowing that he’s going to be there day in and day out,” Hill said. “And just having his back and him having mine, I feel good out there on the court with having him a part of the team.”

Miller said it’s been “refreshing” to have Lyons around. He’s making everyone better, including Hill, and the two older players have been leading by example in terms of showing the younger players how to compete.

“And I really believe that as we enter the big games on our schedule, and as our season develops, we’re going to rely a lot on those two guys as personality to bring out the best in our team,” Miller said.