COLUMBIA — The hard part is over for former Missouri men's basketball players DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons.
The former Tiger forwards were standout players in their time at Missouri, with their careers with the Tigers culminating with a surprising Elite Eight finish in March’s NCAA tournament. Since then, both players have been working tirelessly to woo NBA scouts and executives into drafting them in Thursday evening’s NBA Draft.
“I was nervous at first, but it’s out of my hands now,” Lyons said by phone Tuesday. “I’m just waiting.”
Before the start of Missouri’s 2008 season, Carroll and Lyons weren't often mentioned as draft prospects, but stellar play in their senior seasons and strong performances in tournaments and workouts since the end of the season has changed that.
“A lot of interest has been expressed for both players in the past six weeks," said agent Mark Bartelstein, who represents both players. "DeMarre has put himself in a terrific position to be a first rounder on Thursday, and we fully expect Leo to be taken soon there after.”
While Missouri men's basketball coach Mike Anderson’s "40 minutes of hell" system does not use typical NBA positioning, both players were listed as forwards at Missouri. But the regimented standards of the NBA forced both players to spend the springs trying to refine skills.
For Lyons, that meant improving his post play. Always a versatile scorer, Lyons was able to play on the perimeter for the Tigers, knocking down 18-foot jump shots in bunches along the way. But even at 6 feet, 9 inches and 240 pounds, Lyons was, at times, outmuscled underneath the basket.
Lyons said his improvements have been apparent in all of his workouts.
“I didn’t need to show any more skills, I’ve just been focusing on working hard and bringing constant energy to every workout.” Lyons said.
If there is one thing DeMarre Carroll does not need to work on, it’s his energy. Carroll's tenacity playing for Missouri earned him the nickname 'Junkyard Dog.' Carroll averaged seven rebounds per game in his senior season, but is now transitioning his skills to the perimeter, working on his ball handling and outside shooting.
Listed at 6-8, 225 pounds in his collegiate playing days, Carroll has been labeled a "tweener" by some NBA draft experts. Carroll might be too small to play power forward at the NBA level, a position typically reserved for players between 6-9 and 7-0 who weigh at least 240 pounds. But he might be but too big to play small forward, though, at the NBA Draft Combine in May, Carroll weighed in nearly 20 pounds lighter than his listed weight at Missouri.
Lance Walton, the president of NBAdraftpress.com, said Carroll’s efforts to improve his perimeter game will pay dividends Thursday.
“His perimeter game still needs to get better, but he has shown teams he's capable of getting better at those weaknesses,” Walton said. “Right now, he plays both forward spots and would probably be best playing in a lineup where he can switch it up from time to time.”
Walton said the NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers would be a perfect fit for Carroll. The Lakers hold the 29th, 42nd and 59th picks in Thursday’s draft.
Lyons, too, is confident that his hard work in the spring will help his basketball career.
“I’ve improved my game smarts more than anything,” Lyons said. “I’ve learned a lot from NBA coaches in my workouts.”
Walton said the Phoenix Suns, whose system is the closest to Mike Anderson’s in the NBA, might pick Lyons with the 48th selection in the draft.
“All teams could use a player like Leo off the bench," Walton said. "Leo has shown he can battle down low in the post. His strength and post skills were questionable coming in, but he has made improvements against his competition in workouts, but I believe the Suns will strongly consider Leo because his ability to run the court matches well with what the Suns do."
Bartlestein said he has no concerns about the forward's NBA future if Lyons is not one of Thursday’s 60 picks.
“If Leo is not taken in the draft on Thursday, there are going to be many teams knocking on his door come Friday,” Bartlestein said.