In the latest installment in his "Forgotten Legends" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Lester Lyons, who ranks second in East Carolina history with 1,825 points. But Lyons, who scored 27 points in the Pirates' 1993 NCAA Tournament loss to eventual national champion North Carolina, wasn't solely about scoring as he still leads ECU in career steals with 235. Lyons is now the head basketball coach at his high school alma mater in North Carolina.
Jon Teitel: Why did you choose to attend ECU?
Lester Lyons: After not being recruited by many major D-I schools my choices were limited to ECU, VCU, & Richmond, who were all mid majors at the time. I chose ECU for several reasons. I had the best chance to play as a freshman, it was local, and my family would have the opportunity to see me play.
JT: In 1991 you were named CAA Rookie of the Year. How were you able to come in as a freshman and contribute from the start?
LL: My chance to play was pretty good upon my arrival. Coach Mike Steele made it very clear that if I worked hard at every position that I could possibly play, then I would have a chance to get on the court. We were limited on talent and depth at the guard position, as we were not a very good team the year before I got there.
JT: In 1991 you had a school-record seven steals against UNC Wilmington. Were you just playing exceptional defense that night or were your opponents playing very sloppy?
LL: I would like to think that I was a lock-down defender, but that night I think our game plan was to overplay the passing lanes because UNCW liked to pass the ball a lot and run the shot clock down. I just jumped in front of a few passes playing help-side defense, and that helped me get a lot of steals.
JT: In 1991 you were selected for a CAA all-star squad that toured England and Wales. What was the tour like and what kind of competition did you face?
LL: Actually, that tour was very good for me because it led to an opportunity for me to play later on. We played against some pretty good club teams that eventually turned into a professional league in that country. The all-star squad had a good mix of players from the CAA, and I had great time learning how those guys operated.
JT: In 1992 you scored 25 points in the 2nd half vs. Old Dominion. Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were "in the zone"?
LL: That was just a situation that all players hope for, but I think for me it was just wanting to win the game and not giving up. My shots start going in, and I could not wait to shoot the next one. Playing on ESPN always helps!
JT: What are your memories of the 1993 NCAA Tournament (Lyons scored a tournament school-record 27 points on 8-11 FG in a loss to eventual national champ North Carolina, who wad led by Eric Montross with 17 points)?
LL: I remember the atmosphere that surrounded the tournament. Everybody is good, as it is the best 64 teams left in the country. We were just glad to have made it that far. I happened to play well in another nationally-televised game, which I had success in on several occasions. Montross was a big factor, but not bigger than George Lynch (15 points on 7-9 FG). We underestimated Lynch and he made us pay.
JT: In 1993 you became the first player to score 1,500 points since joining the CAA. Did you realize at the time how prolific a player you were?
LL: I really did not have any idea of how others perceived me or how I played. I was always focused on my team and personal goals. One thing about me is that I want to win so I tried very hard and it produced the results, even though we did not win as many games as I would have liked.
JT: From 1991-1994 you were a three-time Second Team All-CAA performer. How were you able to maintain such consistency over the course of your career?
LL: I think the work that I did every summer to stay on top of my game and improve on my weaknesses helped me maintain my level of play. I wanted to get better every year because I knew the other CAA teams would be planning to guard me with their best defenders every night.
JT: What did you do after graduation?
LL: I played professionally for eight years overseas (in Ireland, England, Lithuania, and Germany) before retiring due to a disappointing knee injury. After returning to the U.S. I began coaching, which is what I am doing now as the head coach at my old high school (Bertie High) in Windsor, NC.
JT: When people look back on your career what do you want them to remember the most?
LL: I want people who saw me play to remember how hard I played and the will I had to win. I ask the kids I coach to never give up because I believe in the will to win. Another thing is that I believed in myself and took pride in who I was. No matter where you come from, be prepared for your opportunities. I would rather be prepared and not get a chance than get the chance and not be prepared. Preparation displays itself every time.
Lester is also on Jon's list of best fantasy players in Conference USA history.
East Carolina: Lester Lyons (1994) 1,825 PTS (#2), 326 AST (#5), 235 STL (#1), 73 BLK (#5), 79.4 FT% (#4), 229 3PM (#1)
Houston: Elvin Hayes (1968) 2,884 PTS (#1), 1,602 REB (#1), three-time All-American, national Player of the Year
Marshall: Skip Henderson (1988) 2,574 PTS (#1), 208 STL (#1), 41.4 3P% (#3), conference Player of the Year
Memphis: Keith Lee (1985) 2,408 PTS (#1), 1,336 REB (#1), 320 BLK (#1), four-time All-American, two-time conference Player of the Year
Rice: Michael Harris (2005) 2,014 PTS (#1), 1,111 REB (#1), 119 BLK (#2), 60.2 FG% (#1)
SMU: Jon Koncak (1985) 1,784 PTS (#3), 1,169 REB (#1), 278 BLK (#1), 55.9 FG% (#2), All-American
Southern Miss: Clarence Weatherspoon (1993) 2,130 PTS (#2), 1,320 REB (#1), 155 STL (#3), 227 BLK (#1), 57.6 FG% (#3), three-time All-American, three-time conference Player of the Year (conference record)
Tulane: Jerald Honeycutt (1997) 2,209 PTS (#1), 870 REB (#5), 419 AST (#1), 235 STL (#2), 163 BLK (#3), 193 3PM (#1), All-American
Tulsa: Shea Seals (1997) 2,288 PTS (#1), 777 REB (#2), 388 AST (#2), 222 STL (#2), 299 3PM (#1), All-American
UAB: Steve Mitchell (1986) 1,866 PTS (#1), 597 AST (#1), 190 STL (#4), All-American
UCF: Bo Clark (1980) 2,886 PTS (#1), 81.3 FT% (#5), 302 AST (#5), four-time All-American
UTEP: Tim Hardaway (1989) 1,586 PTS (#3), 563 AST (#1), 262 STL (#1), conference Player of the Year