Lyles succeeds despite smaller role on team


Forward Trey Lyles of the Kentucky Wildcats drives in the lane during the game against the Florida Gators at Rupp Arena on Saturday, March 7, 2015 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky leads Florida 30-27 at the half. Photo by Michael Reaves

By Joshua Huff

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Trey Lyles’ UK career, should he enter the NBA draft this spring, will be broken down into two segments: pre-illness and post-illness.

Before he missed a little less than a month because of said unknown illness, Lyles had started just seven of 20 games. He averaged just 7.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. Since the injury, Lyles has averaged 8.3 points per game and five rebounds, not eye-popping numbers by any means, but his ability to make an impact around the basket on both sides of the ball has UK head coach John Calipari calling him the ‘X-factor.’

After UK dispatched Arkansas, Calipari heaped praise upon his forward.

“I’ll tell you, honestly, he’s terrific,” he said of the Indianapolis product. “He’s been trained as a three, but you see when he’s at four, you see him around the basket, but he can make 15-footers. He’s 6-foot-10, he’s big. When he was out, we didn’t have that one more rebounder that we needed.”

Lost amid the glitz and glamour of National Player of The Year candidate Willie Cauley-Stein, or the three-point reloading action of sharpshooting Devin Booker, Lyles is the everyman. With a team full of talent and height, Lyles has become Mr. Reliable. A player Calipari can count on to lock down on defense and bottle up the boards.

“If I go out there and do what he’s asking me to do, I’m just going to help the team out overall and just push us to be able to win more games,” Lyles said.

That team mentality defines the success of this squad. Blessed with nine McDonald’s All-Americans, Calipari has had the difficult task of managing the minutes of a roster loaded with potentially nine first round NBA draft picks. But he has adapted and been helped with players like Lyles with a team-first mentality despite being Indiana’s Mr. Basketball and Gatorade High School Player of the Year.

“We all just have to go out there and play together,” Lyles said. “And … if we’re all playing well with one another, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be winning.”

After averaging 23.7 points, 12.9 rebounds during his senior year in high school, he helped his school win the state title that season, a person would be prone to think that transitioning to a role player instead of a star would be difficult, but that transition is made easier with all the talent surrounding him.

“I still have to approach the game the same way,” Lyles said. “(I) just try to come out with energy whether I’m coming off the bench or I’m starting, really just doing whatever the team needs from me in that particular game. It really doesn’t matter if you start or you come off the bench, as long as you come out with energy.”