COLUMBIA — Mike Anderson spends hours trying to get Leo Lyons to be more consistent on the basketball court. Little does Anderson know that Lyons does a good impression of his coach’s admonishments.
Missouri’s tallest player can be shy. Even after a big game, Lyons speaks quietly, rarely elaborating beyond the initial point. Just getting a slight smirk out of him is an accomplishment.
He is rarely more brazen on the court. The stone-faced Lyons can often be seen standing alone, minding his own business on the floor.
Put him back in the locker room, though, and he comes out of his shell.
“He’s the comedian, he’s the rapper, he is the know-it-all,” Anderson said. “He is one of those guys who can just stay up until midnight or 1 o’clock just talking, talking about all kinds of stuff.”
When Lyons talks he often impersonates. Some Dave Chappelle here, some Wedding Crashers there, and when they aren’t around, some of Lyons’ best impressions are of the coaching staff.
“They don’t know about it,” Matt Lawrence said. “He does coach Anderson, (Melvin) Watkins, and he gets (Matt) Zimmerman’s southern accent.”
The key is just getting Lyons to open up.
Lawrence first met Lyons in the fall of 2005 when they were paired to live together in the residence halls.
They didn’t get along at first. Lawrence, from suburban St. Louis, did things a lot differently than Lyons, from inner city Kansas City. The worst, Lyons said, is when Lawrence would blast country music in their room.
“We didn’t like each other at first,” Lyons said. “We were just forced to stay together in the same dorm.”
But after a few weeks things began to click. Initially it was through their favorite video games, NBA Live and Madden NFL.
“He thinks he is a better Madden player than he actually is,” Lawrence said. “He thinks he can take anyone.”
Pretty soon they started hanging out more often and became good friends. As they got closer, Lawrence learned more and more about Lyons.
“When I started to shoot the ball a little bit he lightened up. He thought I had a little bit of game,” Lawrence said. “He’s a little shy at first, until he feels comfortable, but once he’s comfortable, he’s got a lot to his personality.”
Besides being the team’s unlikely comedian, Lyons is also a passionate and accomplished musician. He became interested in music when he was 8, playing the saxophone and drums through middle school, but now focusing more on writing and rapping.
In December, Lyons presented a copy of his album with the group Fa Sho Entertainment to Anderson, who said it’s “not bad.” That’s a compliment from Anderson, who said he prefers ballads and spiritual music, though he wouldn’t go as far as to say he likes it.
“No comment,” he said.
Lyons and other members of Fa Sho Entertainment have opened for artists like Ja Rule, Shop Boyz and Tech N9ne. Lyons said he performs about once a month, whenever he can open for a big show, mostly in Columbia and Kansas City.
“I just like music,” Lyons said. “Anything to do with music I like doing.”
Other than on his signature slam dunks, Lyons doesn’t show a lot of emotion on the court. That’s not the case at his rap shows.
”He has got a good stage presence,” Lawrence said. “It’s hard to miss him because he is very tall. You don’t see too many guys who are 6-9 that are up there dancing and singing. He is pretty talented.”
After two years living with Lawrence, Lyons moved in with fellow Fa Sho Entertainment and Missouri football team member William Moore this year to work on music, though Lyons said he isn’t looking for a career in the field.
“I’ll always do it for fun,” Lyons said. “It’s nothing I plan on pursuing or anything like that.”
When talking about the fun-loving side of Lyons, Anderson referred to the player as “silly.” His actions on the court and dealing with the media are a far cry from silly, but there might be a reason for that.
Even though he grew up in Kansas City, Lyons never really considered playing at Kansas or Missouri because he had always wanted to play at Kentucky. After initially signing with Kentucky, Lyons changed his mind and decided to come to Missouri, mainly to be closer to his mother.
He admits that he wasn’t always comfortable at Missouri. In his freshman year, he was paired with a roommate he didn’t understand and coach Quin Snyder resigned midway through one of the darker seasons in program history. Then, the next year, Lyons had to get used to a whole new coach when Anderson arrived.
The forward struggled to live up to expectations in his first two years as well, averaging only 2.6 and 7.4 points in his first two seasons and struggling for playing time.
Lyons said he finally feels comfortable this season. It is the first time that he can remember having the same coach for two seasons and it is the first time he has been in one school for three consecutive years.
As Lyons becomes more comfortable at Missouri, more and more of his personality is revealed to the public.
He is still not the most flamboyant or openly emotional player on the court but he took over a starting role this season and is the team’s third leading scorer with 12.1 points per game. He is also averaging 4.7 rebounds.
“I feel like I’m getting better as the games go by,” Lyons said. “I’m being more aggressive, just finding my ways.”
He still isn’t close to being the team’s most talkative player after a game, but he is one of a few players who always makes himself available after every game and is becoming one of the team’s more prominent players, on and off the court.
“I think he is probably one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met,” Lawrence said. “He kind of looks intimidating the first time you meet him, he is a 6-9, huge guy, long arms. But he is really a genuine nice guy. He gets along with anyone.”