Wednesday's win latest step in Lyons' turnaround

Thursday, March 5, 2009 | 3:52 p.m. CST; updated 9:12 p.m. CST, Thursday, March 5, 2009
Leo Lyons drives to the basket against Kansas State on Feb. 25. The Tigers beat the Wildcats 94-74 at Mizzou Arena.

COLUMBIA — Leo Lyons stood in front of the media after helping Missouri upset No. 4 Oklahoma on Senior Night to complete the season undefeated at home.

Unlike seniors Matt Lawrence and DeMarre Carroll, Lyons avoided crying during Wednesday's pregame ceremony. But after the game, his words told how much the night meant to him.

Saturday's game

Missouri (25-5, 12-3 Big 12)
at Texas A&M (22-8, 8-7)

WHEN: 1 p.m.

WHERE: Reed Arena, College Station, Texas




"I can't blame those guys for crying. It's been a lot of up and downs," Lyons said. "We love the city. We love the fans. We love everything about Mizzou, so it's really emotional. It's good to end this way."

Life as a Tiger hasn't always been so wonderful for Lyons. His development has been a slow, painful process. But now that he has finally secured his role as a leader and star, he is able to appreciate the journey.

"For me, I was real lucky to be here and have Coach A (Mike Anderson) come here. He showed us the way," Lyons said. "It took me a while to understand what he wanted."

Likewise, Anderson is thrilled with the growth he has seen in Lyons. The skillful senior always had the raw ability to be a great player. It just took him time to translate that ability into success.

"I'm really, really proud of Leo, and just to see the things that are taking place," Anderson said. "He has a world of potential, but potential don't mean anything if you don't do anything with it. He's starting to do a lot with it."

Anderson inherited Lyons when he took over at Missouri in 2006. As a freshman, Lyons struggled playing for former coach Quin Snyder, averaging 2.6 points in 9.5 minutes.

Anderson's arrival gave Lyons an opportunity for a fresh start. Lyons' speed and agility as a big man made him seem like the perfect fit for Anderson's fast-paced system.

But a lack of maturity stood between Lyons and his goals.

In three seasons at Missouri, Anderson has suspended Lyons three times. The first suspension resulted from Lyons' lack of commitment in the classroom.

"Leo is one of those guys, when I first got here, school wasn't one of his favorite subjects," Anderson said. "That's something we had to work on right there. First. Before we even did the basketball."

The second suspension came last season for a curfew violation. Lyons was at a Columbia nightclub when some of his teammates were involved in a brawl. Lyons didn't participate in the fight, but being there was enough.

This season, Anderson suspended Lyons for one game after he was arrested following a traffic stop for driving without his headlights on. After the suspension, Lyons came off the bench for four games.

Even when he wasn't in trouble, Lyons had his share of struggles. On the court, his career has been marked by streaks of brilliance offset with prolonged benchings when Lyons' effort didn't match Anderson's expectations.

After his junior season, Lyons initially put his name in the NBA draft before deciding to return. The decision has worked out wonderfully.

Over the past nine games, since returning to the starting lineup, Lyons has played some of his most consistent basketball. He has averaged 15.8 points in those games.

Anderson denies that his relationship with Lyons was ever strained.

"It was tough love, that's all it is," Anderson said.

With the No. 15 Tigers at 25-5 and still in the hunt for the Big 12 title with one game remaining, things between Anderson and Lyons seem nearly perfect.

Before Wednesday night's ceremony, Anderson approached Lyons to tell him how much he has meant to the program.

"They wrote like, Leo, we didn't like each other. In fact, I love you Leo," Anderson told the senior. A wide smile spread across Lyons' face.

But there is no time for reflection from Missouri's seniors. They can look back at all they've accomplished after the season. For now, the focus is on what they can still accomplish.

"We'll wait until after the season to look back on things like that," Carroll said. "Right now we're just still trying to win games and take this season and make history out of this season."

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