If there's one thing that Chris Lykes has proven in his two-plus years at Gonzaga and in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, it's that the junior, even while standing at just 5 feet, 8 inches tall, can score.
After stepping in for an injury-depleted Eagles team as a freshman and leading them in scoring at 14.9 points per game, Lykes has maintained his electrifying play, already surpassing the 1,000-point mark for his career following a 20-point effort in a Dec. 29 win against Gulliver Prep.
But with the Eagles graduating standout seniors Bryant Crawford and Sam Miller from last year's WCAC championship team, Lykes spent this past offseason working on his leadership ability.
In doing so, he's studied the play of Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul, focusing less on the perennial All-Star's on-court moves and more on what he does in between plays.
"I watch how when he talks to his teammates, he takes to them the side and talks, maybe, about the last play, and then I watch the reaction of who he's talking to and the players never try to talk back because they know Chris Paul is trying to tell them something right," said Lykes, who is averaging 21.5 points and has offers from Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth and George Washington, among others. "Just earning that respect as a leader by working with my teammates, distributing the ball and making plays on both ends of the court."
The Gonzaga junior found himself doing a good amount of this on Saturday, when the now top-ranked Eagles traveled to face Neumann-Goretti (Pa.) at the CRC Classic in West Virginia. With the Saints keying in on Lykes and Gonzaga trailing for much of the game, his ability to exhort his teammates became that much more important in crunch-time.
Eddie Scott, moving from his role as sixth man and into the starting lineup after Michael Myers broke his nose, kept the Eagles close with 13 points. Then Myles Dread, after not scoring in the first half, got going with 10 points. Sophomore Prentiss Hubb went on to close out the 71-70 win, draining the go-ahead shot with four seconds to play before securing a steal on the other end of the floor.
"Chris is our leader and he's doing great things but he's adapting his game to allow other guys to step up, too," Eagles Coach Steve Turner said. "The guys at the tournament said they were going down the line the whole second half, trying to figure out who would be MVP of the game because different guys kept stepping up at different times. Because of that, teams can't just key in on Chris."
In the end, Hubb earned MVP honors after scoring a team-high 19 points. The sophomore has been on a track similar to Lykes, playing a vital role in last year's championship run and continuing that strong play this season while picking up an offer from Maryland along the way.
"I feel a lot more confident than I did at this point last season. I've been working on being more of a scorer and transforming into more of a point guard to relieve some of the pressure off Chris," Hubb said. "We've had a lot of people step up and we're all just determined not to lose."
So far, the Eagles' lone loss in 11 games came in overtime to a bigger, nationally ranked Roman Catholic (Pa.) team, and since then, they bounced back to win the Junior Orange Bowl Classic over the holiday. The road will only get tougher, as the Eagles begin the heart of their WCAC schedule Tuesday at No. 2 St. John's.
"When we play great team defense, we blow teams out because we know we can score the ball," Lykes said. "If we focus on that — and also boxing out because we play a smaller lineup and that made a difference in our loss — if we do those things, we'll be able to get back to where we did last year."
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