FORT WAYNE — With the clock running in his team’s first game of bracket play at the Bill Hensley Memorial Run N’ Slam All-Star Classic at Spiece Fieldhouse in Fort Wayne, Trey Lyles decided to take over a game his team had long since lost control of.
On back-to-back possessions, he rammed the ball through the middle of the Wisconsin Swing defense beating defenders off the dribble than into the lane. The first time, he threw down a thunderous right-handed dunk with the rim feeling every ounce of frustration. On the next possession, he drew a Swing defender toward the ball and found one of his Spiece teammates cutting baseline for an easy layup.
From that point forward, he did what he could to force the issue, but Spiece was down to its final three minutes and was eliminated 96-76 in the first round of the 17-and-under bracket at its own home tournament Saturday. Lyles scored 28 points in the loss, and left believing that he should have demanded the ball more.
“I should’ve been doing that the whole game,” Lyles said. “It’s hard when you have a team that’s full of scorers, but you have to have a guy that steps out and just leads the team and it’s my job to do that.”
Of course, how he navigates that dynamic for Spiece is mostly irrelevant for Indiana. The salient point for the Hoosiers is this — when Lyles does decide to take control of a game, he’s capable of doing so in ways that very few players his size are. Hence the reason the Indiana commitment is already the No. 7 rated player in the 2014 class according to ESPN.com.
Lyles, who is finishing his sophomore year at Arsenal Tech after earning second team all-state honors this season, is 6-foot-8, 220 pounds. He has long arms, broad shoulders and a frame that resembles what one would presume Tim Duncan had at about Lyles’ age. He’s built like a post player and he can certainly make plays on the block, but he can also handle it and shoot it well enough that he doesn’t have to rely on others to get him the ball.
“He’s always had perimeter game,” Spiece coach Reynaldo Bluiett said. “But now he’s added some strength, and now he’s able to get to the bucket. … I would hate to (defend him). He’s a problem for big guys and little guys don’t stand a chance against him.”
It’s typically difficult for players who grow to be Lyles size to maintain their coordination as they go through a growth spurt. Perimeter skills like ball-handling and jump shooting are usually lost before they can be found again at the end of high school and into college. Lyles never lost those and he’s built on them over the last year. His handle has remained fluid and his jumper precise. He’s continued to focus on those skills in his individual work, preparing to play on the wing even as he’s being used mostly in the post.
“I’m working on playing the 3 spot on the wing,” Lyles said. “Before I was just mainly a post player, 15 feet out, but I’ve really strived to get better at that three position, making moves and shooting the ball.”
Lyles has improved at both the wing and the post by getting bigger. He said he put on 25 pounds from last season, following an intense weight room regimen and doubling up on protein shakes, and that’s made a difference across the board. It obviously makes a difference in the paint, where he’s more capable of boxing out, but it’s also made his handle stronger, which makes him better at finishing with contact.
“I’m trying to get bigger every day,” Lyles said. “I’m a lot more confident. When I was younger, guys were bigger than me, stronger than me. Faster, now I’m right there with them, so I can’t have any excuses playing against them.”
He’s already playing up a year — he’s a rising junior playing with rising seniors — but that’s never obvious during a game. Especially when he decides to take it over.
The next step, he says, is simply do that more often.
“I’ve gotta become a leader and take over a game whenever I want to,” Lyles said. “Just going out there and dominating every game.”
Blackmon working his way back
James Blackmon Jr. remembers thinking he’d suffered just a minor tweak. The Class of 2014 Indiana commitment and Fort Wayne Bishop Luers guard actually wanted to return to the game when he injured his knee in a February game against Arsenal Tech and fellow IU commit Trey Lyles.
“I didn’t think it was that serious,” Blackmon said. “On the way home, it started swelling up, and that’s when I figured, ‘This could be a real injury.’”
It very much was. Blackmon tore his ACL and missed the rest of the season and still can’t return to play for sometime.
However, Blackmon said Saturday that the surgery went well. His rehab is progressing and he’s expecting to return to full strength.
“Tearing your ACL used to be career ending injury,” Blackmon said. “Most people say that you can come back even better and more explosive than you were before. … I don’t have a target date (to return). I just make goals for myself, where I want to be in two weeks. In two weeks I can start running and jumping a little bit. I’m gonna take it from there.”
Bluiett still taking his time
There has been some suspicion that Park Tudor forward Trevon Bluiett could be the next Indiana commitment, joining teammate and point guard Yogi Ferrell, a 2012 signee. However, Bluiett said Saturday that he still plans on taking his time with a decision.
“I don’t plan on committing this year,” Bluiett said. “Probably junior going into senior year.”
Indiana is one of six schools that have reportedly offered a scholarship. He said he’s also hearing from Florida, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, and Notre Dame.