Former UMBC men’s basketball superstar Jairus Lyles has traded in his Retrievers black and gold for a new uniform. Lyles now dons the blue and gold colors of the Utah Jazz G-League affiliate Salt Lake City stars, and he has been making waves in his first season at the professional level.
Lyles has always been a special player since his debut at UMBC. After spending a year at Virginia Commonwealth University and a semester at Robert Morris, Lyles came to Catonsville and quickly became the centerpiece for a Retrievers team that would eventually make history.
Through the three years that Lyles spent playing for the Retrievers, the team made dramatic improvements each year. Lyles joined the Retrievers shortly after fall finals came to a close in 2015, quickly becoming an offensive weapon for the team, averaging 23.0 points per game in 21 contests that season. After winning only seven games that year, the Retrievers had one of the biggest improvements in win totals the following season, as Lyles averaged almost 20 points per game. The team made it all the way to the CIT semi-finals before losing to Texas A&M Corpus Christi, with Lyles out due to a wrist injury.
Of course, the next season will always be the one everyone remembers. Lyles’ heroics in Vermont and his 28 points against Virginia in March Madness were vital in UMBC’s historic 2017-2018 campaign, which culminated in an America East championship, and them becoming the first 16 seed to beat a 1 seed in men’s basketball.
It was no surprise for those who watched him on a nightly basis, that Lyles wound up becoming a professional basketball player. But, the path was not simple by any means. Though Lyles worked out with many teams such as the Hornets and the Wizards before the NBA draft, the night would finish without his name being called.
“It was busy. Just a lot of work,” Lyles said, standing in the tunnel of the brand new DC Sports and Entertainment arena, home of Wizards G-League affiliate Capital City Go-Go. Lyles had just finished his first career professional game in the DMV area, playing just 20 minutes from where he grew up in Silver Spring, MD. Lyles spent a lot of time going back and forth from different NBA cities for tryouts, IMG Academy in Florida for workouts and back home. “It’s really tiring on your body, but that’s what you have to do for the draft process.”
The process was somewhat of a blur for Lyles, constantly working to improve his game even as the draft was occurring. As many NBA hopefuls were glued to the TV hoping to hear their name called, Lyles was at the UMBC Event Center practicing and waiting. But as the draft came to a close, his name would not be called. “[I wasn’t] disappointed, I knew anything was possible. You can’t be disappointed when things don’t go your way, you gotta keep your head up and keep grinding,” he added.
Despite a setback on draft night, Lyles wound up realizing his dream to become a professional basketball player, as he received an invite to play for the Utah Jazz in the NBA Summer League. “It was a great experience, getting to play with different pros,” Lyles recalled. He was very grateful for the chance to be around his Jazz teammates and coaches. After the summer was over, he eventually received an offer to play in the preseason. His performance was good enough to earn him a G-League contract for the season.
So far, Lyles has performed very well in the G-League. In 32 games so far, he is averaging 12 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 4 assists. Though, Lyles admits that the game is much faster at this level. He also had to adjust his game slightly, going from being a score-first guard to being a true facilitating point guard.
On Feb. 1, Lyles finally got the chance to play in front of a home crowd, returning to play in the DMV area for the first time since the semi-final game against Hartford in the America East playoffs. Lyles was happy to get to play in front of friends, family and UMBC fans. He was very happy to see his family, seeing them only three times since he began his professional career.
Lyles left the interview with a message for Retrievers fans. “I appreciate the constant love and support I get from UMBC fans, they’re the best fans in the world. Keep cheering on the team, they’ve got big things coming.” He will be returning to the university on Feb. 16 when the Retrievers take on UMass Lowell.