KANSAS CITY — When fans saw the last of this year’s Missouri basketball team last week, they might have seen the last of junior forward Leo Lyons.
But they might not have, too.
After Missouri’s season-ending loss to Nebraska in the Big 12 Conference Tournament on March 13, Lyons sounded like a player who would be back next year, but he left open the possibility of leaving to pursue a professional career.
“Whatever is best for me,” Lyons said when asked about his future. “I’m just trying to better myself, keep working hard, and try to do whatever I can.”
Lyons wasn’t specific about his plans and didn’t give a timetable for when he would decide, saying, “It’s just whatever’s best for me.”
His name started getting mentioned on NBA draft prediction Web sites after a dominating 27-point, 18-rebound game at Oklahoma State on Feb. 26 in which he also made 12-of-13 field goal attempts.
Lyons finished the season on a tear, averaging 21.5 points and 12.8 rebounds in the last four regular season games. On the season, he was Missouri’s leading scorer and led the conference in field goal percentage.
It was such an improvement from last year — almost six more points and 1.4 more rebounds per game — that Lyons was also named to the Big 12 All Improved team.
On Sunday, he was projected as the No. 56 pick in the 2009 draft and rated the 30th best NBA prospect among this year’s junior class by nbadraft.net.
“All I know is that I ain’t going to take a break,” Lyons said. “I’m going to keep working hard, and whatever happens, happens. I don’t really know.”
Four years ago Missouri forward Linas Kleiza used the Big 12 Tournament as a showcase for the NBA draft, scoring 26 and 33 points in Missouri’s two games then leaving school early and being selected 27th in the 2005 NBA draft.
Lyons had the opposite experience. He shot 2-for-12 from the field and made seven points in Missouri’s only game.
After the game, Missouri coach Mike Anderson didn’t directly answer if he thought Lyons would be back next year, but said he hoped Thursday’s game would put things in perspective for Lyons.
“When you talk about wanting to be one of the better players in our league, not only in our league, in our country, so there is a lot of work to be done for Leo,” Anderson said.
When Lyons spoke to the media after the game, he talked about his expectations for next season, sounding like he was planning on being back.
“We’re losing four good seniors, those are pretty good leaders,” Lyons said. “I’m a senior now, it’s a lot of guys who have to step up and be leaders and get this team together and try to get this team more chemistry.”
Teammate Keon Lawrence said he didn’t know if he should expect Lyons back next year or not.
“I don’t know man,” Lawrence said. “He ain’t said nothing.”
But it would be a big boost to a young team to get him back.
“It would help us a lot,” Lawrence said. “Him being the way he’s been playing the last couple games, it would help us a lot.”
Missouri finished the season 16-16 and without a bid to any postseason tournament for the second year in a row.