Injured Lobo Lyle exercising patience in another year off court
JaQuan Lyle, right, talks on the Lobo bench with Zane Martin, sitting out as a transfer from Towson, during the team’s Jan. 19 home game vs. Wyoming. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal).
His teammates were upstairs by now, eating dinner or hanging out in the locker room having already wrapped up their 90-minute practice on Bob King Court preparing for a road game in Fresno, Calif., two days later.
That was when JaQuan Lyle started his work.
Hitting jumper after jumper. Running back and forth while managers and one team staff member rebounded for him and fed him pass after pass as he worked through drills in an otherwise empty Dreamstyle Arena ? the Pit.
In that sanctuary, he has spent the past 15 months ? at first hoping to lead the Lobos in front of thousands of screaming fans. These days, he hears only the sound of his squeaking sneakers and a basketball bouncing back at him off the concrete bleacher steps of the iconic arena.
And even though on this particular Thursday, when the 6-foot-5 former two-year starting point guard at Ohio State had pushed himself so hard he was throwing up on the side of the court, it was exactly where Lyle wanted to be.
“I miss it, man,” Lyle said. “I can’t wait to play again.”
But it wasn’t always that way.
After spending a year sitting out at UNM per NCAA transfer rules, Lyle was poised to be the team leader in Year Two of the Paul Weir era at UNM. Already looked at as that leader despite having not played a game for the Lobos, the veteran combo guard was ready to prove to the “what have you done for me lately” college basketball world that his best playing days were still very much ahead of him.
Then, on Sept. 29, in just the second official practice of the 2018-19 season, Lyle ruptured his right Achilles tendon, an injury expected to cost him this season and one that almost ended his Lobos career before it ever really began.
“It was tough, especially at the beginning. I’m not going to lie, I was very, very depressed,” Lyle, of Evansville, Ind., said of the days and weeks after his injury.
″? It hit me hard. I stopped coming around completely. I just couldn’t take sitting down and watching it. There were times where I would ask P-dub (Weir) if it was cool if I didn’t come to practice.”
Lyle, 22, already is old for a college basketball player and the earning window for any professional career is now. So another year of rehab before more college basketball wasn’t something he knew if he wanted to do.
“I’m a tough guy, so I knew I would bounce back from (the injury),” Lyle said. “It was just the aspect of sitting out last year and working so hard, working with the guys (to prepare for this season) and just being ready to finally play ?play in the Pit.”
Ultimately, after about two months of still deciding, Lyle said the support of teammates, UNM coaches and his family finally broke through.
“At the end of the day, it was an easy transition once I got to being around the guys (again) and having fun, laughing,” Lyle said. ”? That was what really helped me the most. These guys being there for me.”
Lyle is still a vocal participant in practices and a key part of the team. After a Jan. 22 loss at UNLV, he posted on Twitter a message saying somebody on the Lobos needed to start to show heart and play with passion.
Despite criticism, he didn’t delete the post and his coach didn’t condemn it.
“I said what I said, but at the end of the day, like what P- Dub said, it’s something that we all say every day, not just me,” Lyle said. “Whenever I tweeted it, it wasn’t negative coming at those guys. In life in general, there’s going to be a time where you have to fight.”
Health-wise, Lyle is far from 100 percent and still isn’t yet able to make hard cuts on the court, but he has confidence he will get there. And he has no doubts about being with the Lobos next year after a hard lesson learned a few months ago.
“Don’t take it for granted,” Lyle said. “I think that’s what a lot of us do ? take this game of basketball for granted. You never know how good something is until it’s gone. ...
“Whenever I couldn’t do anything with basketball, that was when I was completely at my lowest. I would say that’s the biggest thing. Never take a day for granted.”