In the 2019 NBA Draft, 60 young basketball players had their lifelong dream come true. Of the 60, three of which played college basketball together at the University of Virginia where they won a national championship. De’Andre Hunter who was selected fourth by the Hawks, Ty Jerome who was selected twenty-first by the Suns, and Kyle Guy who was selected fifty-fifth by the Kings have been through just about everything college basketball could throw at you.
The year before they felt the honor of hearing their names called on the NBA draft stage and the glory of March Madness, they felt the heartbreak of March Madness, becoming the first team in NCAA Division One history to lose to a 16-seed in the round of 64. While many may have seen the game as a fluke or a poor performance from Virginia, the players of the winning University of Maryland Baltimore County have stories too. Here’s how their top two players found themselves in the most legendary game in college basketball history and where they are now.
Jairus Lyles – 20.2 PPG
Coincidentally, both of Lyles’ parents attended for the University of Virginia, the school their son would upset decades later. His father played in the NFL for six years so is mother primarily raised him living in Maryland where Lyles would have the opportunity to play high school basketball with future NBA players, Victor Oladipo and Josh Hart. Following a relatively uneventful high school career, Lyles was a three-star recruit and chose to play for VCU, despite other offers from Oklahoma State, Penn State, and Virginia Tech.
Following a disappointing freshman season at VCU where Lyles would only make two field goals over the entire season, he decided to transfer to Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania. Succeeding the season where he’d be forced to sit out to transfer eligibility rules, Lyles transferred once again, this time to UMBC.
In his sophomore season at UMBC Lyles made an immediate impact on offense averaging 23 points in 36 minutes per game. Despite his efforts, UMBC would finish at the bottom of the America East Conference in 2016 with a conference record of 3-13. In Lyles’ junior season, he would lead UMBC to the best offense in the AEC alongside senior sharpshooter, Will Darley. Despite the team’s offensive efforts, they would still only finish fifth in conference play.
Heading into Lyles’ senior season, UMBC had their most eventful year in school history. They finished second in the conference for the regular season but defeated Vermont in the conference championship to find themselves a spot in March Madness for the second time in school history. We all know what happened in the game. Lyles shot 9/11 against potentially the best defense in college basketball that year, finishing the game with 28 points.
Following his crazy NCAA run, Lyles made himself available for the 2018 NBA Draft. While his name wasn’t called on draft night, the Utah Jazz saw enough potential to offer him a spot on their Summer League team. Following the preseason, the Jazz waived Lyles but added him to their G-League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars. In 46 games, Lyles averaged 13 points per game, shooting nearly 40% from three. After a relatively disappointing 2019 Summer League, Lyles remains in Salt Lake City and will have to continue to wait for his NBA debut.
K.J. Maura – 11.3 PPG, 5 APG
K.J. Maura had a far different recruitment to UMBC than team leader Jairus Lyles. Maura was born in Puerto Rico and was encouraged to play basketball by his father who was a huge fan of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and the Los Angeles Lakers. He grew up watching highlights of Steve Nash, who he very closely resembles on the court now.
Standing shorter than five and a half feet tall, Maura began playing high school basketball in his hometown as well as going to Puerto Rico national team events. Due to his lack of size, he didn’t garner much national attention until his dad reached out to J.J. Barea’s high school coach, Art Alvarez. Alvarez offered Maura a spot on his AAU team, where he would quickly lead the team to the championship game of a tournament in Las Vegas attended by hundreds of college coaches.
Following his AAU success, Maura began playing high school basketball in the states at Arlington Country Day School in Florida. Notable alumni included Rodney McGruder who was playing at Kansas State at the time and Javier Baez who would eventually become one of the MLB’s most gifted players. In his two-year high school career, Maura faced off against future NBA players Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, and Jabari Parker and helped his team reach the state championship in his senior season.
Despite his high school success, Maura was largely unrecruited by NCAA Division One schools due to his small stature. Abilene Christian University took a chance on point guard giving him substantial minutes off the bench in his freshman season. He averaged two points and two assists through 17 games at Abilene Christian but was kicked off of the team due to a violation of team rules.
With no other division one offers, Maura took his talents to junior-college at the College of Central Florida. In one season there, Maura averaged 9 points and 11 assists and earned junior-college All America honors. Following his last year of junior-college eligibility, Maura attended an all-star game in Las Vegas (the place where his dreams always seemed to come true) where he was noticed by UMBC head coach, Ryan Odom.
While he started 32 of his team’s 33 games in his junior season, it wasn’t until his senior season that Maura officially took off. Playing over 35 minutes per game, Maura averaged 11 points and 5 assists, while winning the America East Conference’s defensive player of the year award standing only five feet seven inches tall. In the game against Virginia, Maura guarded Ty Jerome who was almost a foot taller than him. He held him to only 15 points on 2/9 shooting from beyond the arc. Despite Lyles wildly efficient offensive game, UMBC wouldn’t have been there without Maura’s defensive abilities.
A few months after the upset, Maura signed with Santeros de Aguada of the Baloncesto Superior Nacional, the highest tier of professional basketball in Puerto Rico. In his first season in Aguada, his team reached the BSN Finals. As most rookies do in international play, Maura hadn’t played much in the playoffs. With his team’s back against the wall, however, Maura played a huge role for his team, leading them to their franchise’s first championship.