Men's Basketball

NBA Draft: For Tyler Lydon, home is where the hardwood is

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Tyler Lydon left Syracuse after two seasons to enter the NBA draft. He is projected to be selected at the end of the first of two rounds.

UPDATED: June 22, 2017 at 12:51 a.m.

Tyler Lydon comes from Elizaville, New York, a town 50 miles south of Albany of about 2,000 people. There are no streetlights on his family’s street. They do not have next-door neighbors. For the 21-year-old to leave Syracuse after two years and move to the nation’s third-largest city was “a complete culture shock.”

Chicago has been Lydon’s home for more than two months now as he’s worked out with fellow NBA hopefuls. He passed up two more years of wearing Orange to sign with an agent and enter the NBA Draft, which is Thursday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Most mock drafts indicate he will be the eighth first-round pick from Syracuse this decade, with DraftExpress.com predicting him at No. 24 to the Utah Jazz. Then, he’ll move again to a new metropolis, unless he’s picked by the hometown Bulls.

But this was the dream. Lydon had decided to make this leap to give the NBA his best shot. After he signed with Andy Shiffman of the Windy City-based player agency Priority Sports, there was no turning back. To brace himself for the midwest move, Lydon went back to what he knew best: home.

He and Zach, his older brother, joined Brendan LoBrutto, his coach from Pine Plains (New York) High School, to get up some shots in his old gym. He wanted to stay fresh before the professional grind began.

“It was the same old Tyler,” LoBrutto said. “He was the same gym rat that he was when he was in high school with us.”

A couple of weeks later, after stopping in Albany to work with his former AAU coach, Lydon flew to Chicago on April 9, his 21st birthday. He joined the rest of Priority’s eight-man draft class, including Gonzaga center Zach Collins, South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell and Lydon’s roommate, Valparaiso forward Alec Peters. The two have lived on their own in a fully furnished luxury apartment in downtown Chicago.

Priority’s crew worked out five to six times per week, with group work in the morning and individual in the afternoon. Tim Anderson, owner of Ground Zero Training and coach of the Chicago Meanstreets AAU team, ran the skills-based portions of the workouts. They mimicked the workouts NBA teams hold at their own facilities.

Lydon had only a few days to adjust to the heightened speed and physicality, so he struggled at first. He needed to get into better shape, which Anderson said is the case with “90 percent” of players entering the pre-draft process.

Anderson saw Lydon’s body start to drag under the newfound daily strain. He grew quieter than normal and seemed down on himself. But once Anderson told him he’d seen this “1,000 times” and that he just had to keep working, Lydon responded. Lydon started opening up more and became a sponge, Anderson said. He asked for extra reps and spent more time in the recovery room. The mental toughness impressed Anderson.

“He’s tall and he’s athletic and he’s big and he’s all of that,” Anderson said. “But he’s still a baby. He knows now that there’s a certain way you have to work to be a professional athlete. He embraced it.”

Lydon saw his daily competition as the biggest advantage he had in preparation.  He battled on the court with Thornwell, Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, and Collins, who played in the national championship. Most experts project Peters will go in the middle of the second round.

“Having guys like that, it makes you push yourself even harder,” Lydon said. “When you see the guy next to you is working just as hard as you are, you just want to keep pushing and outworking them.”

lydon-workout

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With the early hiccup behind him, Lydon locked in. His main goal in the past few weeks has been to show teams the skills he couldn’t display at Syracuse. Everyone knows Lydon can shoot; he converted 39.9 percent from 3-point range in two years at SU. Anderson said his “stroke is effortless,” which is important considering the NBA has developed into a shooter’s league. Ten years ago, Golden State was the only NBA team averaging more than 24 3-point attempts per game. This season, 22 of 30 teams exceeded that mark — and the Rockets fired 40 per contest.

But the offense did not run through Lydon as many expected it to his sophomore year, and he anchored a defensive scheme, the 2-3 zone, that doesn’t really exist in the NBA.

“He is better than what he showed on tape,” Anderson said. “He was a first round pick coming out, but you didn’t get a chance to see him pull up.”

Or bring the ball up. Or come off a ball screen. Or possess the lateral quickness to guard the three. Lydon’s camp is trying to convince NBA teams he’s not one-dimensional and not just a stretch four. While some experts compare his ceiling to sharp-shooter Ryan Anderson, Lydon told DraftExpress he relates to do-it-all stars such as Gordon Hayward and Kawhi Leonard.

To fulfill Lydon’s vision, Anderson stressed working on Lydon’s ball-handling skills. For someone of Lydon’s height at 6-foot-9, he has to stay low. They’ve been “pounding it everyday” to make proper ball-handling techniques simple muscle memory.

Defensively, Lydon has to prove himself after two years in the zone. But from what Anderson saw in Chicago and heard from team representatives, that isn’t scaring anyone away.

“I’m not saying he’ll be able to walk in the league and defend LeBron, but sh*t, he’ll have to,” Anderson said. “He’ll figure it out. …  He’s not the quickest and not the fastest, but his feet are really good and he understands angles. He anticipates really well.”

Lydon might be able to play man defense, but NBA teams didn’t find out at the Combine. He declined to participate in five-on-five play because, Shiffman said, there was more to lose than to gain.

In the spot-up drills, Lydon shot at least 40 percent from every spot on the floor. He mostly splashed at an 80 percent rate and didn’t miss once from the top of the key. Lydon’s abnormally high 13.6 percent body fat, Shiffman said, is a “non-issue.” After having the highest of any player at the combine, a handful of teams measured Lydon with “normal” results. Players at Lydon’s position averaged about nine percent.

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Since the combine, Lydon has worked out in Chicago and jetted across the country to meet teams. The sessions are all generally the same, he said, and the most challenging part is maintaining mental focus on early mornings after late nights in foreign places. Sometimes, he’ll get to a city alone at 2 a.m. It’s not Syracuse. It’s not Elizaville. But he hasn’t had time to think about what his life has quickly become.

“You’ve got to fight for your spot,” Lydon said, “for everything that you have, you’ve got to come out and earn it.”

As any young baller with NBA aspirations, Lydon has envisioned the walk across the stage at the Barclays Center. Shaking the commissioner’s hand. Donning the hat. Flashing the pearly whites for the camera. But he decided to pass that up.

On Thursday, Lydon will be in the place that shaped him. During a time in which it seems everyone wants to be his friend, he’ll host his inner circle in Elizaville. They’ll watch the draft on a big-screen TV or a projector.

“(The pre-Draft experience) gives you a chance to really understand who’s important in your life,” Lydon said, “and who really has your back through this process. Obviously, you get a lot of people … coming out of nowhere who you haven’t talked to in however long.”

To Lydon, the people who will be with him celebrating are why his name will be called at all. They deserve to share in the experience with him.

For one night, before an NBA team gives him a new one, he’ll be home.

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this post, Tyler Lydon’s height was misstated. Lydon is 6-foot-9. The Daily Orange regrets this error.

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