SALT LAKE CITY — A year ago at this time, Trey Lyles and Devin Booker were teammates, helping their unbeaten Kentucky Wildcats team get started in the NCAA Tournament, one that ended with a disappointing loss to Wisconsin in the Final Four.
Now Lyles and Booker, who went back-to-back in last year’s NBA draft at 12 and 13 in the first round, are nearing the end of their rookie seasons and both have had their shining moments this year.
In Utah’s 103-69 victory over Phoenix Thursday night, Lyles outplayed his former teammate, leading the Jazz with 17 points in just 19 minutes, with a career-high three 3-pointers. Meanwhile, Booker, who was averaging 23.6 points during the month of March, could only manage seven points on 3-of-14 shooting in 32 minutes of action.
Utah coach Quin Snyder praised Lyles as one of the Jazz players who has “stayed ready,” and said he wished he could find more minutes for him on a Jazz front line that includes Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert and Trevor Booker. But he was happy with his rookie's excellent game against Phoenix.
Lyles’ shooting has especially improved this season as he made 6 of 10 shots Thursday, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range.
“I’m just continuing to stay ready and working on my shot,” the 6-10 forward said. “I have the confidence to shoot it and my teammates have the confidence to give me the ball.”
Lyles only hit four 3-pointers all season with Kentucky last year, but nearly matched that total Thursday as he hit a big 3-pointer at the end of the first half to extend a five-point lead to eight and then sank back-to-back 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to stretch the lead to 89-56 with 7:23 left.
In the December meeting between the Jazz and Suns in Salt Lake, Lyles had six points and seven rebounds, while Booker had just six points, no assists and no rebounds. Then last month in Phoenix, Booker won the battle with 18 points while Lyles went scoreless in just five minutes, although the Jazz won by nine.
Lyles and Booker said they’ve kept in touch all season, while keeping an eye on each other’s games from afar.
“I knew he was capable of it and over the last month he’s shown he can go out there and do his thing,” said Lyles.
“He’s been playing really well and I’m proud of him,” Booker said of Lyles. “He had that little head-butting incident the other night — I haven’t talked to him yet, but I’ll probably say something.”
Last year, Booker and Lyles weren’t even the stars on a team that included No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns and No. 6 pick Willie Cauley-Stein. Booker, who never started a game, averaged 10.0 ppg on 47 percent shooting and 41.1 percent from 3-point range, while Lyles averaged 8.7 ppg and 5.2 rebounds, while starting 21 games.
They each lamented not winning the national title with all that talent. “You think about it all the time,” Lyles said. Booker added, “We had a great team and made a great run, but just came up short. But we made memories to last a lifetime.”