Heart over height: Chris Lykes making his mark on Miami
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — When the stars of the Miami Hurricanes’ latest basketball victory sat down at a table for the postgame news conference, guard Bruce Brown expressed doubt about freshman teammate Chris Lykes’ ability to reach the microphone.
“You’ll have to stand up,” Brown said with a grin.
Lykes is accustomed to hearing that sort of thing. He’s 5-foot-7.
“I tell him height over heart, because he believes in heart over height,” 6-11 center Dewan Huell said. “I do that just to mess with him.”
But the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference is starting to take Lykes seriously. That includes the No. 19 Clemson Tigers (14-2, 3-1 ACC), who play host Saturday to the No. 18 Hurricanes (13-2, 2-1 ACC), and No. 7 Duke, which visits Miami on Monday.
The smallest Hurricane made perhaps the biggest contribution in their win Sunday over No. 23 Florida State by scoring a season-high 18 points . It was the latest example of Lykes providing a spark off the bench.
He’s averaging 7.5 points and 17 minutes per game.
“Lykes is extremely talented,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “When you’re small like that, you have to have exceptional skills. He’s a flawless dribbler, and fearless taking the ball to the basket. He has such explosive quickness. As he gains a little more experience, he’s going to be a handful.”
Lykes is part of the most highly regarded recruiting class in coach Jim Larranaga’s seven seasons at Miami. Guard Lonnie Walker IV arrived with the most hype, but Lykes was also considered a top-50 prospect after averaging 17.6 points as a senior at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C.
“I watched a lot of his highlights last year, and I was pretty excited he was coming here,” Huell said.
But when Lykes arrived at Miami, he was too short for other students to treat him like a Big Man on Campus.
“I always think it’s funny when they hear there are two basketball players in the class,” Lykes said. “They’ll immediately pick out one because he’s like 6-5. Then they struggle to find the other one. We always get a good laugh out of it.”
Larranaga has said if Lykes were 6-6, he’d be another Michael Jordan.
“You can immediately see the electricity he brings to the game with his speed, quickness and scoring ability,” Larranaga said. “We’re very excited about him being here, but like all freshmen, he’s learning. There are some things that will make him a much better player as he gets older.”
Lykes is shooting only 41 percent from the field and 61 percent from the free throw line, and he has been exposed at times on defense.
But he has made 23 3-pointers, and shows a remarkable knack for penetrating and getting the ball to the rim amid much taller players. A couple of his layups against Florida State were highlight-worthy.
While Lykes’ size might make him better suited to other sports, basketball has been his favorite since he started playing on a county team at age 6.
“I wasn’t that good, but I really loved the game,” he said. “I love video games of basketball, and love watching college and NBA basketball. So I just wasn’t going to let my size determine if I should play. I kept pushing myself, and didn’t listen to outside comments. I didn’t care what my size was.”
He’s at least a couple of inches shorter than both his father and his younger brother, and even a young man who doesn’t play basketball might find that annoying.
But Lykes said he doesn’t wish he was taller.
“God has blessed me with what I have, and I’m going to continue to use it,” he said. “Being lower to the ground helps me with my speed and ball control. Especially in the ACC, where guys are bigger, I can use my speed to get around them.”
In other words, heart over height.
“Dewan likes to say height over heart, which I don’t understand,” Lykes said with a chuckle. “But I guess that’s funny for him.”