Senior Michael Lyons figured he would go from driving the lane to carpooling to his awaiting desk job once he hoisted his final jumper at the Air Force Academy.
After years of burying baskets for the Falcons as a shooting guard, his next military assignment after graduation was scheduled to be buying things for the Air Force as an acquisitions officer.
Only, theres been a change of plans for one of the schools all-time leading scorers. He now will mentor future Falcons as an assistant coach of the academys prep school squad. Its a fitting promotion, but a role hes not quite ready to step into just yet.
Lyons and the Falcons (17-13) lost 72-46 to UNLV (24-8) on Wednesday during the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament in Las Vegas, but nonetheless hes eager for some bonus basketball. With two wins over top-25 opponents already on the résumé this season, an NIT berth could be a possibility for Air Force. Or perhaps even a spot in the NCAA Tournament field should the team win the MWC tournament.
Thats a tough task, considering this is one of the premier conferences in the country. But Lyons has his team flying high, fresh off an 89-88 win over No. 15 New Mexico last weekend to end the regular season. Hes the leagues leading scorer, averaging 18.3 points.
And when Lyons heats up, few can stop him. He scored a career-high 45 points against Colorado State earlier this season, along with 37 against Boise State and 30 to stun New Mexico.
Its been a pretty good season for me, Lyons said.
Just pretty good?
Hes done so much for this program, coach Dave Pilipovich said.
Thats more apropos.
In his stretch at the academy, Lyons has vaulted up to fourth on the schools all-time scoring list, with 1,527 career points (Raymond Dudley occupies the top spot, scoring 2,178 points from 1986 to 1990).
And thats with teams keeping close tabs on him, too, some blanketing him with an extra defender, while others try to bump him around anything to prevent him from getting a good look at the rim.
Yeah, Ive noticed that teams dont really leave me open as much this season, said Lyons, who was named to the first-team All-Mountain West squad Monday. I have to create more on my own, cut more, be more physical. Teams are definitely playing me harder.
Thats simply because when he gets on a roll, theres not much that can be done. His 45-point eruption against CSU on Jan. 16 was evidence of that. That was the highest scoring output by any Air Force player not named Bob Beckel, who has the top four single-season games in school history, including a 50-point outing against Arizona on Feb. 28, 1959.
There is just no answer for when a guy gets like that, Rams coach Larry Eustachy said of Lyons performance. Thats like one of those NBA guys.
The 6-5, 193-pound Lyons hardly has been an overnight sensation.
No, hes steadily bloomed into a scorer, his average climbing each season with the Falcons. He went from 6.9 points a game his freshman season to 13.7 as a sophomore and 15.6 last year.
This season, hes taken it to another level.
Any insight on why?
I think, along with how hard Ive been working, the mental part of it is making the game easier, said Lyons, whos from Newport News, Va. Ive been through a lot, seen a lot. It just makes the game a little easier when I go out there and play.
An acquisitions officer by training, Lyons thought for sure something along those lines would be his first assignment after graduation. That he would be sitting behind a desk, doing some business-type things.
It was a pleasant shock when he found out he would be working with the prep squad, possibly turning a cadet into the next Lyons.
He was once in their sneakers, coming up through the prep school, which helps players get used to the military and academic side before the academy. Their time at the prep school doesnt count against eligibility.
When he was there, Lyons averaged nearly 18 points a game and led the squad to a 24-8 mark against a schedule that included junior college squads and some JV teams.
Lyons return to that level soon will have him working with a guard who possesses a shooters touch and a knack for getting to the basket.
Lyons little brother, Trevor, simply is following in big brothers footsteps.
Trevor is much better than I was at that age, said Michael Lyons, whose sister, Tish, played basketball at Old Dominion. I cant wait. Its going to be great working with him.