Meet the Wildcats: Lyles chomping at the bit to join teammates on the court

A new season brings new players and new stories to tell. Over the last several weeks, has been profiling Kentucky’s newcomers in its annual and exclusive “Meet the Wildcats” series. The 2014-15 version of the series concludes with big man Trey Lyles. 

over the life of a Kentucky basketball player so long and you realize that even the most die-hard of basketball junkies, even the guys who would sacrifice everything to put on the Wildcat jersey, need a little release here and there.

In a 365-days-a-year, “basketball-never-stops” program, it can’t be basketball 24/7 for the individuals or else they break.

Bio Blast

Position: Forward
Date of birth: Nov. 5, 1995
Parents: Thomas and Jessie Lyles
Hometown: Indianapolis
High school:  Arsenal Technical High School
Nickname: TreyMamba
Twitter: @TreyMambaLyles
Instagram: @TreyMamba41
Favorite TV show: SportsCenter
Favorite food: Steak
Favorite superhero: Batman
Favorite player: Kobe Bryant
Favorite hobby outside of basketball: Collecting shoes
Favorite movie: He Got Game
Favorite artist: Drake

For some guys that escape is playing video games. For others it’s watching movies. Just hanging out with friends or carving out some time to grab a meal off campus can feel like a relief when you’re under the spotlight that shines on a Kentucky basketball player.

Newcomer Trey Lyles has yet to really feel that pressure – that “beast” that John Calipari has called it –  in his first few months as a Wildcat, but he already has his mental escape for those days when the weight of his basketball responsibilities starts to bear down or an upcoming paper stresses him out.

He has jigsaw puzzles.

“I started doing picture puzzles when I was younger,” Lyles said in an exclusive interview with “I don’t know how old I was, but I’ve been doing them ever since. Puzzles of cities and all kinds of stuff.”

He puts together puzzles of bridges, puzzles of forests, and even a 3,000-piece puzzle of Elvis one time.

For the soft-spoken Lyles, doing puzzles is a way for him to clear his head and get his thoughts together without turning on a TV, scrolling through his Twitter feed or picking up the phone. It’s just him, his thoughts and a few thousand pieces of interlocking cardboard.

Trey Lyles averaged 23.7 points, 12.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists during his senior season at Arsenal Tech.

“It just calms me down,” Lyles said. “It helps me with being level-headed and having to think a little bit and think about something that’s not basketball related or school related.”

Lyles hasn’t needed that escape quite yet because he’s been too busy this summer trying to get back on the basketball court.

Following a magical senior season at Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis, Lyles underwent a procedure on his left leg and has been held out of practices and games ever since. He was seen working with assistant coaches on his shooting and ball handling before games in the Bahamas, but he has not been cleared and he did not play in any of the six games during UK’s exhibition tour.

“It’s very frustrating,” Lyles said of watching his teammates. “As a competitor I want to be out there all the time, especially coming in here with a new group of guys. Not being able to be out there with the team right now is just very frustrating. I see them working hard and stuff like that and I just have to sit over there and watch. For any competitor it’s angering.”

As of the Bahamas trip, Lyles is a few weeks removed from returning to basketball at full contact.

“I’m just really looking forward to when I’m able to get out on the court with them,” Lyles said.

When Lyles suits up, Kentucky will add yet another dimension to an already incredibly talented, deep and dynamic group that impressed just about everybody with its dominant play in August.

“I’m versatile,” Lyles said. “I can play a couple different positions. I’m a team-first guy. I make the open pass, I make open shots. I just do whatever it takes to win.”

Lyles said he’s watched a lot of film recently of Scottie Pippen because of their physical similarities, as well as Tim Duncan because of his attention to detail and fundamentals.

One guy Lyles won’t compare himself to is UK’s leading scorer and rebounder from a year ago, Julius Randle. While it’s easy to assume Lyles will fill the void Randle left because of their similar frames and position, Lyles is more of a face-up four than he is a bruiser, though he’s quite adept at scoring in the paint as well.

“We’re both rebounders and we’re both aggressive, but once the season gets underway I think people are going to start making their own comparisons,” Lyles said. “I’m going to do whatever Coach wants me to do. If he wants me to rebound, to assist, to play defense, be a leader (I’ll do it). Just whatever he needs me to do.”

“I’m a commitment guy. Once I’m with a group of people, I don’t want to leave them behind.” — Trey Lyles
Lyles put his trust in Calipari after a long and winding recruiting process.

It began at the end of his eighth grade year when Lyles, who was already an elite 6-foot-7 prospect, verbally committed to stay in state and attend Indiana University. Lyles remained committed there for about two and a half years.

“I was young,” Lyles said. “I thought I knew what I was doing. My parents wanted me to wait, but when you’re young you always think you know what you’re doing. As time went on, I got older (and) I started seeing some things and had to realize that I made a mistake.”

Lyles decommited in August 2012, just before his junior year.

“My parents got back at me on that one,” Lyles said, laughing at the fate of his parents’ wisdom.

But the recruiting process was just heating up for Lyles at that point. When he opened the process back up, Kentucky and Louisville got involved, paving the way for three of college basketball’s most vocal fan bases to get in a war of words on message boards and social media, for most of which Lyles had a front-row view.

Tobacco Road may get the national headlines for its intensity and proximity of big-time basketball schools, but Lyles was now in the middle of a triangle of rivalries that take a backseat to none. The tension and pulling Lyles felt from the three fan bases as he evaluated his future was palpable, especially from the home some felt he had abandoned.

Trey Lyles led his high school to its first-ever state championship.

“There was definitely a lot of flak for about two or three months,” Lyles said. “I had stuff coming at me, but after that it calmed down and kind of got back to normal.”

The decision ultimately came down to the fiercer of the two rivals, UK and U of L. Lyles pledged his allegiance to the Cats in early November.

“Coach Cal just stuck out more to me for what he’s able to do and how much he cares for us,” Lyles said. “I came here quite a few more times than I went to Louisville, so I just felt more comfortable here. Just the family atmosphere. All the guys get along. Everybody’s always together. The fans really helped out a lot. Having great people that back you really helps out a lot.”

For someone who originally committed to a college well before his peers, to finally end the process was extremely relieving.

“I’m glad I got it over when I did,” Lyles said. “I got to focus on my high school senior season and I went out there and played well. I knew that I was coming here so that definitely helped to get it out of the way.”

With the decision behind him and only a year of high school ahead, Lyles went out and gave his high school a season it will remember forever.

Looking to lead Arsenal Tech to its first state championship in school history, the 6-10 Lyles didn’t disappoint. The 2014 IndyStar Mr. Basketball guided his school to a 27-2 season and eventually the state title.

The championship was the culmination of a long and storied high school career, and ultimately a gratifying one. Lyles was approached on a number of occasions to leave Arsenal Tech and attend prep schools with more basketball pedigree, but Lyles honored his commitment to his school, an especially important vow to him after the uncertainty of his recruiting experience.

“I’m a commitment guy,” Lyles said. “Once I’m with a group of people, I don’t want to leave them behind. I had a chance to go to prep school my sophomore or junior year, but the friendships and the relationships I had with the coaches and my teammates really just kept me there.”

Just a few blocks down from where his future team was playing in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, Lyles embraced his dad at midcourt of the Bankers Life Fieldhouse seconds after the final buzzer. He hopes to do the same next year in a return visit to his hometown for the NCAA national championship game.

“It was very special because he told me at a young age that I was made for that moment,” Lyles said. “To finally go out there and win a state championship, it meant a lot to me and to him. It was just a father-son moment. I hugged my dad afterward and cried and stuff like that. It was just a happy moment.”

“At 6-10, Trey can play both inside and outside. He has the skills to score in both areas. He’s seen what some of our former guys are doing in the pros right now and has said he wants to follow in their path. My hope is he’s our next beast.” — Coach Cal
Lyles calls his dad, an R&B artist, his best friend. The elder Lyles played professionally for years, first with the Indiana Pacers, then in the CBA and eventually overseas.

Lyles’ father, Tom, taught Trey both the game of basketball and how to play bass guitar. Music is in the Lyles’ blood but basketball is in their hearts. When Trey started beating him one-on-one as early as the ninth grade, Tom let his son make his own choice for his future.

“He says I’m better than he was,” the younger Lyles said. “He just tells me I can’t stop working and there’s always another level I can go to.”

When the elder Lyles helped his son pack up and move to Lexington, he didn’t, however, let him pack those puzzles his son loves so much.

“He didn’t think I would have enough free time,” Trey Lyles said.

Free time is something Lyles won’t have much of when he returns to the court, but everybody needs their release.

“Definitely when I go home I’ll be bringing some back,” Lyles said.