Guard Chris Lykes has kindled his own fire when looking at individual successes on the floor, but now he and his team are ready to reach the next bar for postseason success.
He has not been just the shortest player on the Hurricanes in recent years, but also on the hardwood in most, if not all games.
That does not get in the way of his relentless, “Heart over Height” play style and mentality, however, whether it be in an intrasquad scrimmage, non-conference matchup, or the ACC Tournament.
Miami guard Chris Lykes has bedazzled his teammates, coaches, and even opponents through three seasons in Coral Gables, Fla, while flying under the radar in one of college basketball’s more rigorous conferences. He averaged over 15 points per game last season and has even been honored to the Preseason All-ACC First Team this fall.
“He’s playing the best basketball in practice,” Miami coach Jim Larrañaga said during the preseason. “He’s had a great summer and fall, and that was after the knee surgery. So, he came back very strong and he rehabbed the knee, got himself in great shape, and he’s playing very, very well.”
Lykes, a 5-foot-7 senior starting as the team’s floor general once again this winter, at last has the pieces around him the Canes need to potentially succeed, taking the load off of him from a production standpoint.
“I think experience is very important, especially in your backcourt,” Larrañaga said. “I think guards really control the game with their defensive pressure on the ball and with their ball-handling to create shots for their teammates. Having Chris Lykes, Kam McGusty, Isaiah Wong and Harlond Beverly, those guys should really be good leaders for us this year.”
And that extended leadership is what Lykes and Larrañaga both hope to finally serve as the tipping point towards regained dominance in the ACC, a conference that recently saw star guards in Jordan Nwora of Louisville, Duke’s Tre Jones, and Cole Anthony of North Carolina all depart for the NBA Draft on Nov. 15.
The Washington native may look to do the same himself in the near future, regardless if he stays another year in Larrañaga’s program, which has recently sent players like Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker off to the NBA.
But at the moment, it remains all about him and the program taking the next step regarding postseason success, a feat that has been sorely longed for since the 2017-18 season.
“I’m not necessarily trying to standout,” Lykes said. “I’m really just trying to win as many games as I can. Yes, I feel like I’ve had a solid career here at UM, but I think careers are always defined by winning. Unfortunately, I haven’t won much here so if that’s standing out, then I’m going to do what it takes to stand out. That’s in tune with winning, and that’s how I’m going to end my career.”
Fortunately for the former All-ACC Honorable Mention, that aspired sense of winning may be just around the corner given the added talent and depth combinations.
“I think the closest comparison I can give for this team is my freshman year,” Lykes said in reflection of that season. “We’ve got a lot of talented guys that can play a number of different positions, and we’ve been working on a couple of different things. So, the offense might be a little different but it’s really just gonna take some time for us to gel together. The way we’ve been playing in practice kind of reminds me how the Rockets play.”
But Lykes’ influence has not solely been rippling on the court. He’s been also able to help ignite a path for others of the Northeastern region, including freshman guard Earl Timberlake of Washington, find their path to Miami.
“I always wanted to go to Miami,” Lykes said. “It was one of my three choices from seeing Shane Larkin play here, and I felt like I could come in and fill that same role. I guess once you go somewhere and other kids see you have that success, that’s what kind of starts that bridge between D.C. and Miami. So, I think that’s where it came from. I’m glad Earl’s here, to have another guy from your area is cool.”
That type of bond has even been strengthened with the team’s sophomores in guards Isaiah Wong and Harlond Beverly, who have shown improvement throughout the offseason.
“The relationship between me, H, and Zay has been there from day one,” Lykes said. “I feel like they look up to me and ask me a lot of questions, but they’re good kids and I’m grateful to be able to teach them some of the things I’ve learned in college.”
Wong and Beverly saw their roles increase in their respective freshman campaigns last season, thanks in part to the veteran guard’s impact on their flourishing college careers.
With a new and eerily different season tipping off on Saturday afternoon, Lykes knows how capable the team is of simply going further than recent seasons.
“Every team I’ve played on I feel like we can go all the way,” Lykes said. “It’s just a matter of staying healthy, which we’ve seen over the past couple of years, and just sticking to it. We’re gonna be alright this year (but) it’s just a matter of staying focused and keep trusting (each other).”
Regardless of how the remainder of the ACC appears, Lykes and the team remain confident in how they will approach the season as one unit. Now all he and the Canes have to do is actually seize the opportunity to (literally) storm the conference in utilizing the deeper and more talented roster intact.
The little guy could very well have just his best year as a Hurricane, even without the rumble of the Watsco Center for those Miami runs.