Everybody knows who UMBC is now after their run in the NCAA Tournament this past season. And that is in large part due to senior guard Jairus Lyles.
Lyles just closed his career out with the Retrievers with season averages of 20.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. But UMBC is not where Lyles’ career started out at.
Lyles was a three-star recruit from the class of 2013 out of DeMatha Catholic High School in Maryland. Lyles decided to sign with Shaka Smart and VCU. However, after just one season with the Rams, Lyles decided to transfer to Robert Morris after seeing limited action.
But after one semester at Robert Morris, Lyles moved again, this time to UMBC. Lyles said he just did not feel like either team was right for him.
“VCU just wasn’t the right fit, and it was the same situation at Robert Morris. Just wasn’t the right fit,” Lyles said. “Eventually ended up at UMBC. As you could see, it was the right fit, and my career just took off.”
In three seasons as a member of the Retrievers, Lyles averaged 20.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, three assists and two steals per game. Lyles also helped the Retrievers start winning. In the six seasons before Lyles arrived, UMBC won a total of 34 games, which included three seasons with just four wins and zero seasons with double-digit wins.
In Lyles’ junior and senior seasons, the Retrievers won 21 and 25 games. They also made it to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in school history and first time since 2008. Lyles pushed them into the tournament with a 27-point performance against Vermont in the conference tournament championship, including the game-winning 3-pointer to win the game.
Lyles also helped lead UMBC to its first tournament win, which was also the first time in history a No. 16 seed won a game in the NCAA Tournament. Lyles was a big part of the win, putting up 28 points.
“I think we knew we had it in us the whole time. Coming into that game, we were really confident and believed,” Lyles said. “Our scouting report heading into that game was really tremendous. So I think going into that game we knew we could win that game.”
Now that his time at UMBC is over, Lyles is preparing to move on with his basketball career. The NBA Draft is this Thursday, and Lyles has been working hard to be the best version of himself. He knows he is not on too many team’s draft boards, but is confident that he can compete at the next level.
“I’m someone who is going to work extremely hard, make their teammates better,” Lyles said. “Someone who is going to endure the process and work every single day to get better and develop that NBA game. So nothing but positives can come from taking a guy like me.”
Jairus Lyles scouting report
Measurables: 6’2″, 174 pounds
Strengths: Lyles has great ball-handling skills, especially for a player who played the two-guard in college. He has a great crossover along with some other dribble moves that can send his defender off balance. When he drives, his quick first step helps him get to the basket. If he can’t get by the defender, he can step back and hit a jumper. There is no doubt he will be able to create his own shots, even against defenders who are bigger than him.
He was an elite college scorer, who could hit enough outside shots to keep defenses honest, as well as drive to the basket. He finishes at the rim well, which was demonstrated in that upset win over Virginia. He showed his range as a senior, shooting 39 percent from three, but will be hoping to improve that even more. He has the ability to shoot off the dribble or catch and shoot, as he has experience playing on and off the ball.
On-ball defending is something that is often overlooked in Lyles’ game. He had 2.1 steals per game last season with four coming in UMBC’s second-round game against Kansas State. In his one year at VCU, he didn’t play much, but he was able to learn under defensive-minded coach Shaka Smart. In his last season at UMBC, he posted a defensive rating of 97. He may have a tough time contesting shots from taller players, but his quickness will help him stay in front of them.
Weaknesses: Lyles has a very thin frame and will have to add some strength if he wishes to match up with NBA players. At 174 pounds, he is thinner than most draft prospects, including Trae Young. This won’t completely hurt his game at the next level, as he uses his speed and quickness well, but he will need to hit the weight room more as a professional. If he doesn’t, he will be susceptible to injury and to being posted up on.
His height is another thing that will make it tougher in the NBA. He played the two-guard in college, but is a little short for that position. Lyles is more than capable of running the point and did so at times at UMBC. They did have K.J. Maura run the point a lot. This is less of an issue because he can handle the ball and a lot of teams in the NBA are relying on small-ball lineups.
He was not able to face the greatest competition on a consistent basis at UMBC. Part of an NBA schedule will be going up against elite players every game, which is something he will have to get used to. However, he did produce against Virginia, the best defensive team in the country. Lyles had 28 points on 81.8 percent shooting. The next game against Kansas State though, he posted just 12 points on 26.7 percent shooting. More consistency will come with repetitions in practice and games against the best of the best.
Outlook: Lyles can get a shot in the NBA if he hits outside shots, drives to the basket effectively and plays good on-ball defense. Luckily, these are all areas he is already pretty solid at.
Here is the full audio of Lyles’ interview
Featured image by Getty Images
“From Our Haus to Yours”