SALT LAKE CITY — Jairus Lyles arrived in Bradenton, Florida, near the end of April.
Once the national attention died down from his historic NCAA Tournament run at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC), he settled into the Academy Park Villas at IMG Academy to focus on his next goal: the NBA.
The routine was pretty consistent once he locked in.
He would get up in the morning, hit the training room, go over to the turf and then the hardwood followed by weight training all in hopes of earning a spot in the league.
Lyles, 23, was able to show off his game in pre-draft workouts with the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors, but still went undrafted. He eventually got called to play on the Utah Jazz Summer League team, which led to a bigger opportunity as the Jazz signed him, with an Exhibit 10 attachment, during the offseason games in Las Vegas.
He is now one of the 20 players set to enter training camp with the Jazz on Tuesday, Sept. 25, with lofty hopes of earning a final spot on the 15-man roster.
“My mindframe is just to go out there and do what the coaches ask me,” said Lyles, who helped UMBC become the first 16-seed to knock off a No. 1 seed (Virginia) in the NCAA Tournament. “Being an undrafted rookie, you can’t come in there and try to do something you can’t do.
“It’s like being a freshman in college, you’ve got to find a way to fit in and find where you can help the team at,” he added. “So, that’s my main focus going into training camp is being open to everything and very coachable and somebody who’s going to work hard every single day. I’m just going in with an open mind.”
That “Jedi training” with Phillips certainly has him confident in his ability to perform on the professional level, whether that’s with the Jazz or its G-League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars.
“We had tons of different layers, and it was like building a mansion,” said Phillips, currently the head skills trainer at IMG Academy. “So, we started with the foundation of building out his footwork. We did an hour workout where it was just about detailed footwork, and we took a lot of tough shots, because when you get to the NBA, you’re going to have to be able to make tough shots.”
Through that time together, Lyles and Phillips were also able to develop a close bond. Initially, Lyles was assigned to Phillips at IMG Academy through his agent Derrick Powell of Tandem Sports, but they formed a deeper relationship with similar backgrounds in the college ranks.
The knock on Lyles is that he’s a prolific scorer at a mid-major university but viewed as undersized at 6-foot-2. Phillips also faced similar criticism during his tenure at the University of Detroit Mercy, where he left as the all-time leader in points (2,319) before enjoying an overseas career in Greece, France, Italy, Portugal, Latvia, Australia, Turkey, Poland and Saudi Arabia.
Lyles averaged 20.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists as a senior at UMBC, while becoming the third player in school history to post more than 600 points in a season.
“He’s a UFO,” said Phillips, who also hosts a Sports Talk 2319 YouTube show and appeared on Fox Sports’ "The Herd with Colin Cowherd." “The term UFO obviously mean an unidentified flying object, and it’s something that we’ve never seen.
“He fell in that category of a person that you can’t solve offensively, and he proved that throughout his career, and obviously he put in a display against Virginia in front of a national audience.”
Lyles’ reputation as a high-character guy also contributed to this opportunity with the Jazz, as the front office was intrigued with his backstory.
He’s already developed a relationship with several members of the team, including Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Naz Mitrou-Long and Georges Niang this summer.
They recently attended Saturday’s University of Utah football game to watch the Utes take on the Washington Huskies at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“That was really fun,” Lyles described. “It was crazy, because every school that I went to didn’t have a football team, so that was my first college football game, and the atmosphere was crazy.”
Although Lyles can take credit for his hard work in becoming a solid basketball player, he defers to his mother, Carol Motley, when it comes to shaping him into the man he is today.
Jazz fans will get to know him better during next Monday’s Jazz Media Day. And who knows, maybe some of the moves from his “Jedi training” will be on display when it’s time to hit the floor for camp.
“I was raised by a great mom, and she raised three of us by herself, so she taught us well,” Lyles said. “Also, going to DeMatha, which is a private Catholic school, and being around pros every single day and a great coaching staff.
“I got to learn from a lot of great people, and it just comes with maturity when you get older,” he continued. “When you get to this level, you can’t have no baggage issues and you can’t give anyone a reason not to like you, so I had to make sure everything was tied on straight.”