For a quick, 5-foot-7 guard like Chris Lykes, it has always been him against the trees on the hardwood. Shooting perimeter shots, lifting floaters in the paint, or dribbling through traffic—an extended arm or larger frame has always been in his eyeline throughout his college playing career.
Yet the shortest player in any high-major program still manages to take the ball to the rack, drain outside shots, freeze a defender, or even drop a dime to a backdoor-cutting teammate. Not to mention while holding a reputation as a pesky on-ball defender.
In three years as a Miami Hurricane, Lykes has exhibited athleticism, leadership, and character both on and off the court. Oh, and plenty of exhilarating highlights, too.
It almost does not matter whether he is playing in front of 7,000-plus fans at the Watsco Center (home arena in Coral Gables, Fla.) or in the packed arenas of the ACC’s most rigorous programs. The Mitchellville, Md., native has been able to develop into a leader while wowing spectators and teammates left and right.
Viewed as a threat by many college coaches and analysts, Lykes has shined bright having shouldered the load in both scoring and assists over the past two seasons, despite a lack of depth having plagued Miami’s chances of success. The question that has simmered amongst college basketball fans since his impressive freshman campaign in 2018: can he get it done at the NBA level?
Some say this is possible. The rising senior has drawn comparisons to those that also boast an arsenal of speed, abundant scoring and effective passing, including former Washington Husky Isaiah Thomas. Currently an NBA free agent, the 5-foot-9 guard was selected by the Sacramento Kings with the final pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, a chip that has always remained on his shoulder.
“I’ve never felt like size has anything to do with how good you are. You have to have certain attributes to be really good,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “Chris Lykes has those attributes. He’s quick. He can jump. He’s got great shooting range and his ball-handling skills allow him to get past initial defenders and create for others or finish at the basket.” Using these abilities to his advantage, Lykes has not stopped short of just standing out as the smallest guy on the court.
Others, however, have had their share of doubts regarding his NBA potential. While having fully displayed his advertised highlight package, Lykes does need to prove that he can do whatever it takes to help lead the Hurricanes to the next level this season.
In most experts’ minds, that entails shifting the program from finishing in the bottom half of the conference to battling the blue-blood programs including Duke, North Carolina, and Louisville for a higher seed in the ACC Tournament. What also remains important is that he not only rallies his troops back to the NCAA Tournament, but plays a vital role in a potentially deeper March Madness run than witnessed in 2018 (most recent appearance).
A hoops tip / don’t sleep on @CanesHoops . I just spoke with Jim Larranaga & he says this could be his best TEAM in the past 5 yrs if they say healthy .The @accmbb better get ready for an impact Diaper Dandy in EARL TIMBERLAKE from HS power @DeMathaCatholic who will be a STAR!— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) July 7, 2020
Lykes is in full agreement with the spotlight on him to do so. “Now it’s not just about scoring and being the highlight reel. Now I’ve got to be a winner,” he said. “I haven’t lost that much in my basketball career, either, and I know (Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga) hasn’t, so now I’ve got to make guys better, which in turn will make our team better.”
And Larrañaga knows that the former four-star recruit is capable of doing just that. “For him to be highly successful, he needs his teammates playing very well and feeling good,” the former ACC Coach of the Year said. This balance had become more apparent towards the beginning of last season, when Lykes and his backcourt allies, DJ Vasiljevic and Kameron McGusty, had been only one of four Division I trios to each average 15 or more points per game.
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The previous Preseason Second Team All-ACC honoree must continue to bank on his teammates for the team’s overall success. “If he can beat his man getting to the paint and then kick it out for open 3s for his teammates, that would make him a far more productive player and potentially a better prospect for the NBA Draft.” Larrañaga said.
Having been formerly ranked as the No. 14 point guard recruit in the country, Lykes has manifested his belongingness in one of college basketball’s most historic and challenging conferences, while not losing his sight on playing at the highest level.
Many people in his circle, including former basketball trainer Keith Williams, believes in Lykes to achieve his long-term goal of playing in the NBA. “He’s a one of a kind guy at that size with that type of athleticism and scoring prowess in that package,” Williams said.
Former Hurricanes point guards such as 5-foot-11 Shane Larkin have also left their mark under Larrañaga. Larkin had served as an essential leader in the program’s ACC Championship and Sweet 16 run in 2013, something Lykes also looks to accomplish come March.
Lykes’ determination for success is nothing unfamiliar to Larrañaga. “The only thing you have to do to get Chris to raise his level of performance is to tell him he can’t do something,” Larrañaga said. “You tell him, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that,’ all of a sudden, he’s proving you wrong.”
For Chris Lykes, continuing to evolve as a leader while making his teammates better remains crucial for both his draft stock and how far Miami can go, when looking at the typical ACC gauntlet that lies ahead this fall.
The Hurricanes have a handful of talent infusions to support Lykes and other returning pieces. Should Lykes help orchestrate Miami’s potential successes, he could turn some heads upon potentially hearing his name called in the 2021 NBA Draft.