COLUMBIA — For as far back as he can remember, Leo Lyons has never had the same basketball coach two years in a row. Until now.
When the Missouri basketball team takes the court tonight for Mizzou Madness, Lyons expects that to show. The junior forward is coming off a successful summer and said he feels more comfortable than ever at Missouri.
“This will be the first time I’ve played for a coach for a second year,” Lyons said. “Probably in my whole life. So, I mean, I’ve got big expectations for myself.”
One of the reasons Lyons expects to perform well this season is his performance this summer playing among NBA players in the Kansas City Pro-Am League, Lyons averaged 30.8 points and 8.6 rebounds in 12 games. The league included players like Chicago Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich and Atlanta Hawks guard Tyronn Lue. His team also made the championship game.
“It was just a big chance for me to go out there and showcase what I’ve been doing, what I’ve been working on all summer,” Lyons said. “I got to showcase that I can play with NBA guys.”
Lyons averaged 7.4 points and 4.3 rebounds mostly off the bench for Missouri last season, but he said he played a different role for his summer team.
“They just wanted me to dominate the game,” he said.
Lyons still expects the success to translate to the college season, though.
“The scoring will probably go down,” he said. “There are a lot of guys out here who can do the same thing I can. I definitely think the energy will be there though.”
The Tigers have their first official practice tonight at Mizzou Arena, and by the team’s first game against Central Michigan on Nov. 12, Lyons said he expects to be starting. Lyons, 6 feet 9, 240 pounds, said he expects to start in place of Kalen Grimes, last year’s starting center who was dismissed from the team before the season.
All coach Mike Anderson would say is that Lyons is not a center, per se, but he didn’t rule him out as the starter there.
“Leo is a skill forward more than anything else,” Anderson said. “So it’s not about labeling him a 5 (center), he may be guarding a guy that’s a 5, but Leo is a skill forward.”
If Lyons does start at center, there’s a good chance he will be manning the post with junior DeMarre Carroll, a 6-foot-8 forward who was named Preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year on Tuesday. Carroll, who had to sit out last season after transferring from Vanderbilt, said Lyons is a more mature player this year.
“Leo, he’s really gotten tougher,” Carroll said. “I’ve seen that he posts up now, he used to just stay around 3. But Leo, he has really gotten better. He is real aggressive, he rebounds, that’s all I can ask of the big guy.”
Doors open for Mizzou Madness at 8 p.m. and the event, which is free of charge to the public, will include games, competitions and scrimmages among the men’s and women’s teams.
For Lyons, it could be the start of something big.
“Hopefully Leo is a guy that understands this is an opportunity for him to really step up,” Anderson said. “I’m anxious to see how he responds.”
PRESEASON RANKINGS: Missouri was fifth, tied with Oklahoma, in the Big 12 Conference preseason coaches poll, which was released on Thursday. Kansas is first for the second straight year, receiving 10 of the possible 12 first-place votes. KU is followed by Texas, Texas A&M and Kansas State. Texas A&M received the other two first-place votes. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team.
“We are going to be in the hunt for something,” Anderson said Wednesday, before the poll was released. “All the prognostacators, the magazines, all that is is preseason stuff.”