Lyons struggling for playing time

MU senior Leo Lyons has struggled all season, and he is now seeing reduced playing time.
Thursday, January 29, 2009 | 10:34 a.m. CST; updated 4:32 a.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009
MU senior Leo Lyons has struggled all season, and he is now seeing reduced playing time. Analysts around the country have predicted Missouri will make the NCAA Tournament.

Leo Lyons saw his senior year going differently.

Coming into the season, he was the Tigers' top returning scorer. Along with his close friend and roommate DeMarre Carroll, Lyons expected to be a team leader and a focal point of the offense.

Next matchup

Baylor (15-5, 3-3)
at Missouri (17-4, 4-2)

WHEN: 5 p.m. Saturday  

WHERE: Mizzou Arena (15, 061)

TV: KMIZ/Channel 17

RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM

Six games into the Big 12 schedule, Lyons is out of the spotlight. After serving a one-game suspension for a traffic arrest, he has returned to find Keith Ramsey filling his position in the starting lineup. His minutes and production have decreased.

"I'm just trying to fight back into the same position I was in before the suspension," Lyons said.

Lyons' reduced role hasn't hurt the Tigers. They beat Colorado by 45 points while Lyons served his suspension. The team is 3-1 since, with Lyons coming off the bench.

With the team winning, Anderson has hesitated to move Lyons back into the lineup.

"As a team player, I can't really question him (Anderson) when we're winning," Lyons said. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Lyons said Anderson hasn't spoken with him about what he could do to regain his spot in the starting lineup.

Anderson praises Carroll, forward Keith Ramsey and guard J.T. Tiller as "blue collar" players for their defense and toughness. Lyons' strength is at the offensive end.

"Leo's doing OK," Anderson said. "I think everyone is looking at minutes and what he's done. He's helping us win. That's the bottom line."

Analysts around the country, like ESPN's Pat Forde and statistics geek Ken Pomeroy, have predicted Missouri will make the NCAA Tournament. Lyons said he feels happy for his teammates' success. He just wishes he could be a larger part of it.

Compounding the situation is Lyons' goal of playing professional basketball. If Lyons is not on the court, he cannot impress professional scouts. But for now, that isn't his focus.

"It brings more pressure on me thinking about the NBA and things, but if it's meant to be, it will work out," Lyons said.

What is really eating at the senior is his lack of contributions to the winning effort.

During his career at Missouri, Lyons has endured a lot of losing. In his first three seasons, the Tigers went 18-30 in the Big 12. Lyons has never been on a team that advanced past the first round of the Big 12 tournament.

This year has been different. Even after an ugly loss to Kansas State on Wednesday, Missouri is 17-4 overall and 4-2 in conference. The adjustment period to Anderson's system seems to be over. It is finally working.

But Lyons can't help but feel the wins have come not because of him, but in spite of him.

"We haven't had great years since I've been here," Lyons said. "It's tough to finally be winning, and I'm not really a big part."

The whole situation could have easily been avoided. Lyons didn't commit a violent crime. All he did was forget to turn on his headlights and forget to pay an old traffic ticket from 2006. Silly mistakes with significant consequences.

Still, Lyons isn't quitting. He hopes his hard work will put him back in the lineup.

As Lyons worked his way back, Carroll emerged as the team's leader on and off the floor. He scored 27 points in last Saturday's win over Texas Tech.

Replacing Lyons, Ramsey has brought the team energy and defensive intensity. He was named the Big 12 Rookie of the Week this week and leads the team in blocked shots.

 Early in the season, Lyons and Carroll competed with each other on the court. They wanted to have more points and rebounds than each other. For now, Carroll dominates that competition, but Lyons isn't bitter.

He remains best friends with both Carroll and Ramsey. During warmups before practice on Monday, Lyons and Ramsey joked with each other as they jogged backwards up and down the court.

At home, Carroll and Lyons try not to talk about what goes on inside Mizzou Arena.

"We just try to have fun when we're at home," Carroll said. "We try to keep our minds off of basketball as much as possible."

But even away from the gym, they can't escape. Carroll, Ramsey and Lyons spend their time at home watching basketball on TV and playing basketball video games.

The three forwards are competitive in virtual basketball as well. Ramsey and Lyons play basketball video games the most, but Carroll says he's the best.

As the team's leader, Carroll has encouraged Lyons to stay positive and keep working hard in practice even if he isn't happy with his playing time. Carroll told Lyons to keep his mouth shut and let his game speak for him.

"I just try to keep him encouraged, but I think he'll come along coming toward the end of the season," Carroll said.

Lyons' teammates remain confident in him, even if he isn't as confident in himself. Freshmen players still look up to Lyons. Carroll said the Tigers can't achieve their goal of winning a national championship unless Lyons is a key contributor.

"Down the stretch we are going to need him because he's our most talented guy on our team," Carroll said. "Some guys scoring comes easy, and he can put the ball in the basket."

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