Former Toro Trades Sneakers for Oxfords

With the 2011 NBA D-League draft next month, teams have begun to invite former players to training camp. The Austin Toros invited Lance Thomas and Leo Lyons, who are both currently at Pan-Am training camp. Noticeably absent from the invite list is veteran forward Michael Joiner. Joiner, who spent the past two seasons with the Austin Toros, played overseas this summer and returned home knowing that his basketball career was coming to an end.

“At this time in my life I’m at a crossroad” said Joiner. “Ever since I came back from China I’m not playing. I didn’t have the passion or drive to want to play.”

Joiner will be turning 30 later this month and is beginning to transition in to corporate America.

“I’ve been on the hunt fixing my resume and going to job fairs.”

The Florida State alum has a few things going for him that many who are unemployed don’t have the luxury of having: a bank account stocked with money from an overseas contract and a pair of degrees – Bachelors and Masters – that are ready to be put to use. Both degrees were acquired via scholarships. Due to the partnership between the D-League and University of Phoenix online Joiner was able to receive his Master in Business Administration specialization in Human Resource Management while playing basketball.

The realization of moving on in life and past the D-League is easily summed up by Joiner, “Eventually all of us have to get a job and find another source of income.”

Though Joiner knew last season was going to be his final season with the Toros he still enjoyed the opportunity that they gave him. Often seen on the bench in the second half of the season, Joiner was still able to bond with his teammates and this off-season was able to provide them advice as to what they should do with their basketball careers.

These talks led to Lyons and Thomas returning to the Toros this season.

“That’s my wolfpack and this is a good situation for them… It’s a chance for them to show what they worked on all summer.”

Lyons, 24, and Thomas, 23 are in their basketball prime and have the opportunity to stand out and be noticed by a scout in the D-League. Though currently NBA Call-ups are non-existent due to the NBA lockout, the opportunity to receive a lucrative contract overseas is still possible.

So while the future looks bright for two of the Toros’ youngest stars, it’s not all doom and gloom for Joiner. Aside from having a respectable pro basketball career under his belt, he is thankful to the D-League for providing the opportunity to be more than just a former player. Now Joiner leaves the sport with two degrees listed on his curriculum vitae that are much more impressive than any double-double he totaled throughout his basketball career.

Lyons working out for Spurs

Cross-posted from Project Spurs

Leo Lyons

Toros Nation photo

Austin Toros forward Leo Lyons will be working out for the San Antonio Spurs tomorrow, according to Lyons’ twitter stream.

Lyons, who joined the Spurs D-League affiliate in January, averaged 14.9 points and six rebounds in 29 minutes per game last season. The second half of the D-League season proved to be Lyons’ best, as he regularly finished in double figures regardless of the constant Toros roster changes.

It didn’t take long for Lyons work to get noticed, as he was named the D-League Performer of the Week in February, averaging 31.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and two assists in a three-game stretch.

In the final game of the Toros season against the Texas Legends, the 6-9 forward finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block.

After covering the Toros all season, it’s easy to see that Lyons is destined for the NBA and he has the character that would make him a perfect fit for the Spurs.

Lyons can play both forward positions and is a versatile offensive player, with the ability to shoot outside or drive inside. He certainly isn’t your prototypical 6-9 power forward. He is quick enough on his feet to defend on the perimeter and will not back down in the post. He also has the handles of a point guard and can break down his defender for a mid-range jumper or drive and finish or get fouled.

We’ll be talking to Lyons after his workout tomorrow, so be sure to look for his interview tomorrow. For more information on Lyons, you can read a one-on-one interview Jeff Garcia did fwith Lyons earlier in the D-League season.

Green joins Toros for double OT loss; Jones looks back on first season

The Austin Toros (22-28) managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in a double-overtime offensive showcase Saturday night, capping off an up-and-down season. Texas pulled away the second overtime, winning 134-128.

“You’ve got to give Texas some credit because we kind of had the game in control,” head coach Brad Jones said. “We missed some free throws and they made some tough three pointers, but you’ve got to give them the credit for not quitting. But at the same time, we gave them some life by missing some free throws and having turnovers down the stretch.”

The Legends had everything to play for. A win meant they were in the playoffs, while a loss ended their season. The Toros had nothing riding on this one in terms of the postseason, yet they found themselves up 108-100 with about a minute left. That’s when the wheels came off.

Booker Woodfox made a three on the Legends next possession. Then, Texas trapped the Toros and came up with a steal and found Justin Dentmon open for a trifecta to make it 109-108 Toros with 15 seconds left.

After four clutch Aubrey Coleman free throws, the score was 113-110 with less than 10 seconds left. That’s when Rashad McCants saved the Legends season by hitting a three-pointer to tie the game with four seconds left. McCants had 28 points on the night.

Leo Lyons’ potential game-winner rimmed out, and Marcus Cousin could not control the tip in and this one was headed for an unexpected overtime period.

The extra period mirrored the end of regulation for the Toros. When Toro-for-a-day Danny Green (on loan from the Spurs) knocked down an open three, Austin was leading 118-113 with 1:40 left.

A 5-0 Legends run tied it at 118, before Coleman, who led the Toros with 30 points, made a three. That put Austin up 121-118 with nine seconds left. That’s when lightning struck again. Woodfox, who only played ten minutes on the night, made his second cold-blooded three of the game with two seconds left, tying the score.

Squeaky Johnson’s three at the buzzer looked good out of his hand, but hit the front of the rim, sending it into double overtime. This was the third home game to go into double-overtime this season, and second against the Legends.

Austin got up 127-123 on a Johnson three, but then the Joe Alexander show resumed. Alexander was two for two from the field and three for three from the foul line in the second overtime.

Sean Williams’ free throws with ten seconds left put his team up by four with ten seconds left and the Toros could not answer. Williams had 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Alexander led all scorers and rebounders with 36 and 15.

Given the turnover in the D-League, Jones’ post game talk with his players was also his farewell speech to many of them.

“I told them that the goal in this league, whether you win a championship or not is we make them feel like they’ve gotten better,” he said. “That’s the goal of our staff. Everyday we come to work trying to help them get better, while at the same time winning some games. Hopefully they feel that way. We didn’t meet all of our team goals, but hopefully they met some of their individual goals.”

One player that already has a taste of the NBA is Green. On Saturday, Green was one of six Toros in double figures, with 19 points and seven rebounds.

“It was an exciting game for the fans,” Green said. “But if you’re a Toro, you’re pretty disappointed because we had the game won multiple times at the end, but we couldn’t just close out.”

Even though Green had virtually no time to practice and get acclimated with his team, he felt pretty comfortable.

“Given the short notice, I felt like things clicked pretty well,” he said. “I’m not the type of guy to come in and just put up a bunch of shots and force the issue. I know they have some things going here. So I just wanted to keep their chemistry flowing and play a small role and just knock down open shots for them and help them on defense hopefully.

“If they need me to do something, then yeah, but tonight, they really didn’t need that. They have some guards that can get in the paint and make some things happen.”

Green will now look to help the parent club down the stretch run as they try to snap their losing skid.

“I believe I’m going back to the Spurs tonight, we play Phoenix tomorrow, and we’ll see what happens from there,” he said. “Hopefully we can break the losing streak, so we’ll see what goes on. (The big guys) are all healthy and we’re playing better.”

Lance Thomas, who suffered a seizure on court last Saturday, was courtside cheering on his teammates.

“I feel fine,” Thomas said. “The hit I took was pretty bad at the moment with what happened, but I feel fine now. I have to wait a little bit until I have clearance from the doctors. From the standpoint of day-to-day from when it happened, I feel fine.”

Thomas said once he receives doctor’s permission to resume full-contact basketball, he will decide his next basketball move. He hates having to sit out and said this one was especially tough to watch.

“I hate watching period,” Thomas said. “Just to watch a nail biter like that, it was tough, especially when you want to get out there and help. I’ve been a part of this team since the beginning of the season, so it’s hard to watch my guys out there without me.”

Nevertheless, he was proud of his guys.

“I thought they left it on the floor,” he said. “I think there were plays where the other team did better than we did, and there were plays when we had to tough it out, but there was no question of our effort.”

Thomas is one of the Toros young up-and-comers with dreams of playing in the NBA. Jones would love to see all his guys fulfill their professional aspirations.

“I hope all these guys end up in the NBA or oversees making 50 grand a month, so hopefully none of them are back because they’re all making a gazillion dollars,” Jones said. “Having said that, I really like this group we have right now and obviously if it fit in their career path, then we would love to have them come back.”

Jones, who was talking with Spurs GM R.C. Buford and VP of Basketball Operations Danny Ferry after the game outside the locker room, will take the next few days to do some exit interviews and start planning for the summer.

“We’ll see what the Spurs want from us and what we have to do as a staff,” Jones said.

Overall, Jones said his first season with the Toros was both fun and disappointing.

“At times (I had fun),” Jones said. “Every year, there is a challenge. It was a little bit more of a challenge this year with all the roster turnover. Not being able to fulfill the team goals of winning more, I’m very disappointed about, but in the midst of all the fight is a lot of fun. Sometimes you just don’t get the outcome you desire.”

Video recap: Austin Toros vs. Iowa Energy

Toros drop close one against the Legends

In a game that could have put them in playoff position, the Toros couldn’t get it done at the end, losing 97-93.

Leo Lyons had the ball in his hand with six seconds left looking to tie the game. He drove the baseline, but Chris Roberts slid over and drew the charge with three seconds left, sealing the win for Texas.

Tied at 93 with less than 20 seconds left, new Toro Tre Kelley’s drive was blocked by Roberts. On their subsequent possession, Booker Woodfox knocked down a jumper from the corner, giving the Legends a 95-93 lead with six seconds left.

Roberts, who won the game with his two defensive plays, stuffed the stat sheet with six points, five rebounds, five assists, five steals and two blocks.

The Toros put six players in double figures, including the newcomers Kelley and Kyle Weaver. Both guards played significant minutes and should play big roles in the stretch run as the Toros try to slide into the playoffs.

The addition of Kelley and Weaver coupled with the loss of Marcus Cousin makes the lineup smaller and it may take veterans like Squeaky Johnson some time to adjust. Johnson scored just five points and had no assists for the first time all season.

Austin was 14-24 (58.3%) from the free throw line compared to 29-35 (82.9%) for Texas, a stat all the more amplified by the final three-point margin.

The Legends’ Justin Dentmon led all scorers with 25 points. All four Toros bench players had at least 10 points and combined, they outscored the starters 51-42. Kelley led the Toros with 16 points.

They’ll try again tonight against Texas at 7 p.m. Austin is just 3-6 on the second game of back-to-backs this year.

Lyons named D-League Performer of the Week

Austin Toros forward Leo Lyons has been putting up great numbers for the Toros since he was re-inserted into the lineup, and it appears the D-League has taken notice.

Today, the D-League announced that Lyons was named the Performer of the Week for games played during the week of February 28.

Lyons, a 6-9, 200-pound forward out of Missouri who has played in the NBA Summer League with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks, led Austin to a 2-1 record on the week, averaging 31.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists.

In a two-game split with Texas last week, Lyons scored 34 points in 138-136 loss on Wednesday, and netted 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting in Austin’s 132-122 win on Thursday. On Saturday, Lyons had a game-high 29 points and eight rebounds, leading to the Toros to a 115-96 win over Sioux Falls.

Since Lyons returned to the starting lineup, he has been averaging 27 points and seven rebounds per game, yet is never mentioned amongst potential NBA call-ups. I’m sure the Toros don’t mind keeping him around, and with his progress this season, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him playing for the Spurs summer league team  in a few months.

For more on Lyons, read a Q&A he did with Jeff Garcia.

Toros take down the Skyforce

The Austin Toros (17-22) beat the Sioux Falls Skyforce (7-30) 115-96 today at the Cedar Park Center in a much-needed win to stay within reach of the final playoff spot in the D-League. Not to mention getting a win after two crushing losses in the past week.

Early in the game, the Toros used a 16-4 run on the Sky Force and they never looked back. The Toros had six players with double-digit scoring and were led by Leo Lyons with 29 points who carried the Toros on his shoulder in the fourth quarter with 10 points. Austin’s Marcus Cousin grabbed 10 rebounds and Carldell “Squeaky” Johnson had 8 assists.

The Sky Force went on a 6-0 run to try to close the gap in the third quarter but the Toros held them off by not relinquishing their lead which was as big as 20 points. David Bailey led the Skyforce with 18 points and 7 rebounds.

The Toros will next face the Texas Legends Friday at 7 PM.

Austin Toros lose to Fort Wayne Mad Ants

The Austin Toros drop to 12-16 for the season as they fell to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants 103-100 on the road leading to their second consecutive loss. Though Austin lead as much as 8 points in the second half, Fort Wayne responded with an 11-0 run in the third quarter.

It was nip-and-tuck between the two teams but timely free-throw shooting by the Mad Ants’  and a key offensive rebound gave the Mad Ants the slim victory.

Toros’ Leo Lyons lead Austin with 25 points and 10 rebounds while guard Squeaky Johnson chipped in with 15 points and 10 assists. Newest Toro Eric Boateng scored 2 points and grabbed 3 rebounds.

The Toros will next face the Erie Bayhawks at the Cedar Park Center this Saturday.

Q&A with Toros’ Leo Lyons

Leo Lyons

Toros Nation photo

CEDAR PARK, TX — Before tipoff of the Austin Toros (San Antonio Spurs’ D-League affiliate) New Mexico Thunderbirds  contest, I had a chance to catch up with Toros’ forward Leo Lyons.

Lyons played with Altshuler Saham Galil Gilboa and Hapoel Migdal Jerusalem before coming to Austin. In 2008, Lyons led the Big 12 Conference in field goal percentage and was ranked 24th in the nation while with Missouri.

Right before this Q&A, Leo and I shared some laughs as he was joking about how he wanted to be on Toros Nation:

Jeff: So somebody wants to be on Toros Nation huh?

Leo: (laughing) You know it!

Well how has it been so far for you making your D-League debut and how much of a difference is it between the D-League and playing overseas?

There is a bigger difference. There’s a lot more talented players here. It’s not so much format. A lot of the coaches let the guys go out there and play to their best of their talents. That’s what I’m trying to do here.

How would you assess your play with the Toros this season?

So far I’m OK. I’m still learning on the go. I haven’t had too many practices with the team, like two or three maybe, I joined the team on the road, I got to learn on the go. It’s kind of hard for me but I’m getting there.

After a great season last year, the Toros been in the middle of the pack. Is it basically this is a whole new team?

Yeah pretty much it’s a brand new squad. We’re still learning each other. We’re still learning the coaches play. There were a lot of guys here before me and they’re still trying to learn. Sometimes stuff comes fast and you got to take your time and build chemistry with your team.

Mainly people tag you as an offensive minded player but you do get it done on the defensive end.

Right! That’s been my main focus. I’m shooting a lot less than I normally do. I’m a little less aggressive and trying to focus on defense because that is what has me on the edge of the NBA, the questions about my defense.

How has Coach Brad Jones been?

He has been good for me. I didn’t know what to expect from him but I learned after a few days he’s really hands-on and that’s the kind of coach I need. Always trying to get me to be better and I appreciate him for it.

What is the next step for you to make it into the NBA?

Showing them what I can do on the defensive end. Showing them I can come work hard and bring my hard hat everyday.

Make sure to follow Leo on Twitter at @itsleolyons