University of Miami

Chris Lykes’ role will grow this season. This is why the Miami guard is ready for it

Miami Hurricanes guard Chris Lykes (0) drives against Barry University Buccaneers guard David Moya (3) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball exhibition game at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables on on Tuesday, October 30, 2018.
Miami Hurricanes guard Chris Lykes (0) drives against Barry University Buccaneers guard David Moya (3) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball exhibition game at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables on on Tuesday, October 30, 2018. dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Chris Lykes wasn’t exactly used to a season like his freshman one. Even if the recruiting rankings didn’t always have him near the top of the charts, Lykes had almost always been the best player on the floor, even with his 5-7 frame.

But when he suited up for the Miami Hurricanes for the first time a year ago, Lykes had to wait his turn. A freshman, Lykes sat on the bench for the first five minutes of his first season before coach Jim larranaga inserted him into the game. Then it was attack mode: Lykes threw up a layup on the first shot of his career and attempted six shots in 18 minutes of his debut.

“Last year, I was just here and there,” Lykes said. “I want to be more involved in the game this year.”

Plenty has changed in a year and now Lykes will be asked to do more. The 2017-18 season was filled with glimpses of what Lykes can be with an expanded role — he averaged 12.8 points in the nine games after star shooting guard Bruce Brown suffered a season-ending injury in January — even as he primarily served as an off-the-bench spark plug.

On Friday at 7 p.m. at the Watsco Center, Lykes will begin his sophomore year against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks (1-0) as the Hurricanes open the season in Coral Gables. The guard will almost certainly be in the starting lineup and now he’ll be counted on to be more than just a game-changing scorer. Miami is entrusting Lykes to be its primary ballhandler for the majority of the game. The sophomore will have to manage the game like a veteran point guard.

Lykes had had to make a transition like this before. He’s always been the shortest player on the court, but he’s also almost always been the most athletic. Few players have the ability to ignite a crowd and swing momentum like Lykes can with one of the circus layups or deep three-pointers he earned a reputation for as a freshman with the Hurricanes.

Those were some of the plays which caught scouts’ and fans’ eyes in high school, too. A Ballislife.com mixtape video from Lykes’ high school days has almost 400 thousand views on YouTube. He finished his senior year as the No. 61 prospect in the 247Sports.com composite rankings for the Class of 2017. Highlight-reel plays like the ones he made as a freshman put him on the map.

“Being so small, in high school he had to show what he could do to score all the time, but now he’s at a different level. He already showed what he can do. Now he’s just got to be our point guard,” guard Anthony Lawrence said. “He’s been scoring all his life, so it’s different.”

At Gonzaga in Washington, D.C., Lykes was much more than just a novelty act. Lykes was The Washington Post’s All-Met Player of the Year as a senior in 2017 after leading the Eagles to win the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, arguably the toughest high school basketball league in the country, but there was always a balancing act. His height meant he always had doubters and his perpetual instinct to prove them wrong meant he was often trying to score in the most unbelievable way possible. It turned him into the all-time scoring leader at his school.

“We talked about that a lot,” Gonzaga coach Steve Turner said, “when to take over vs. allowing himself to get everybody else involved.”

The final nine games of last season were something of a trial run. Lykes started all nine and played an average of 27.3 minutes, compared to his season-long average of 21.6 minutes per game.

Lykes’ scoring ability held up even with the expanded workload, but he averaged only 2.9 assists to 2.3 turnovers per game during the end-of-season stretch. He knows he needs to make a more concerted effort to get his teammates involved this season.

Even when he was averaging 22 points per game as a senior with the Eagles, Lykes was never one dimensional. He also finished his senior year with 4.3 assists per game. If anything, Lykes feels last year was his outlier.

“I’ve had to switch roles a lot in my basketball career, so I’m pretty much used to it,” Lykes said. “It might take some time to get adjusted to, but I think this will be a lot easier for me.”

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