Jairus Lyles' mother, Carol Motley, told her son to stay at UMBC. He had already bounced around to a couple of schools, but when the big boys came calling -- Kansas, Florida and others -- it was tempting.
Lyles was set to graduate and could take advantage of the transfer rule that would allow him to play elsewhere for his final season without having to sit a season.
“He found his home,” Motley told ESPN as she was waiting to meet her son after his 28-point performance in the historic win over Virginia. “He knew he had his home. He wasn’t going anywhere.”
So the 6-foot-2 senior guard decided to stick around, and it paid off as he led the Retrievers to victory Friday night, the first–ever time a No. 16 seed beat a No. 1 in the NCAA tournament.
“I’m speechless,” she said. “So proud of him.”
Proud of the win despite both Motley and Lyles' father, Lester, graduating from Virginia in 1985. Lester played four seasons for the Cavaliers football team and seven years in the NFL.
“It was unbelievable to see them whip up on my alma mater,” Motley said. “I was part of Retriever Nation tonight.”
Lyles’ road was a long, windy one that began as a top 100 recruit out of DeMatha Catholic High School. He played on a team with Victor Oladipo as a freshman and won championships both his freshman and sophomore seasons.
He went to play for Shaka Smart at VCU, but left after just one season in which he averaged just 2.6 minutes per game. It was a brief one-semester pit stop at Robert Morris, then three productive seasons at nearby UMBC.
“He’s found a culture that he can thrive and grow,” Motley said. “He’s thriving and maturing, and it’s not just on the court.”
Lyles put up 23 points his first season back on the court for former coach Aki Thomas, but UMBC won just seven total games and Ryan Odom was hired to replace Thomas. Lyles’ scoring numbers dipped last year to 18.9 points, but he tasted winning as the Retrievers finished 21-13 and a somewhat surprising fifth-place finish in the America East. This season, Lyles averaged 20.2 points, led UMBC to a second-place finish in the regular season and a conference tourney championship with a shocking win at Vermont in the title game.
But that victory paled in comparison to the shocker against the top seed in the NCAA tourney on Friday.
“I still can’t believe it,” Motley said. “We’ve done the amazing.”