They scratched their heads, leaned a bit to the side and jogged their memories. Their recall ran a figurative marathon, really.
Nope. There hasn’t been another.
For the last two weeks, Elizaville’s Tyler Lydon has spurred local enthusiasm over the NCAA men’s basketball tournament unlike any other local product the area hoops community can remember. Nobody born and raised in the mid-Hudson Valley region has gone as far as the Final Four, according to a consensus of longtime coaches and local sports historians.
So when Lydon, a 6-foot-8 freshman, helped lead 10th-seeded Syracuse University to a stunning upset of No. 1 Virginia last Sunday, earning the underdog Orange a trip to the national semifinals, it certainly was a big deal.
“As far as someone getting as far as Tyler,” Red Hook High School basketball coach Matt Hayes said of the former Pine Plains Bomber. “That’s never happened.”
Lest we forget, Josh Boone, who is a former Poughkeepsie resident, did win a national title as a freshman with the University of Connecticut in 2004. However, the 6-foot-10 center moved to Maryland at age 12.
There were others who enjoyed moderate success in the tournament, a few who even went on the NBA. But this kind of run in the premiere collegiate tournament is new for a hometown kid, three years removed from helping Pine Plains reach the state Class C final.
“Not in my recollection,” said John Flanagan, a board member at the Sports Museum of Dutchess County, whose memory goes back quite a ways. “Nobody from around here has ever done this.”
Lydon’s Orange will face North Carolina on Saturday night in Houston.
Jim Santoro, 56, has followed basketball all his life and been a coach for 34 years. He now helms the Our Lady of Lourdes boys basketball team. A trip down memory lane for him turned up a few names: Edwin Ubiles, Patrick Whearty and Eric Siegrist.
Ubiles, a 6-foot-6 guard who played a season at Poughkeepsie, twice reached the second round of the tournament with Siena in 2008 and 2009. Whearty, a 6-9 center who played for Lourdes, made the tournament three straight years with Holy Cross in the early 2000s, but his team lost in the first round each time. Siegrist, a 6-3 graduate of Spackenkill High School, played two seasons at St. Bonaventure; the Bonnies qualified for the tournament in 2000 but lost to Kentucky in the first round, before Siegrist transferred to Marist.
Going back to the 1960s, there were local legends like Hyde Park’s Wes Bialosuknia, Rich Rinaldi of Poughkeepsie and Arlington High School grad Scott McCandlish. Each had sterling collegiate careers. Bialosuknia spent time in the ABA and Rinaldi played in the NBA.
Franklin D. Roosevelt grad Greg Kohls, who played from 1969-72, is among Syracuse’s all-time leading scorers. The Orange weren’t title contenders back then, though.
But Lydon is at the precipice of something special; two victories away from a national championship. To have a chance at that, of course, Syracuse would first have defeat North Carolina, a heavy favorite.
“The whole town is excited and people have become Syracuse fans, if they weren’t already,” said Brendan LoBrutto, the Pine Plains boys basketball coach, who coached Lydon for three seasons. “I don’t think anyone had ‘Cuse getting this far, so to see Tyler and watch that team claw and fight their way through the tournament is awesome.”
Lydon has been a key contributor all season as the sixth man (though he plays starter minutes) for the Orange. He spaces the floor with his outside shooting skills and he has been an anchor defensively in Syracuse’s signature 2-3 zone, often playing center. He has shined during the team’s four NCAA tournament games — if not throughout, then in the crucial waning seconds of close contests — and has done this in high-pressure, nationally televised games.
Quickly, “Lydon” has become a recognizable name and the towns of Pine Plains and Elizaville are becoming known to folks who aren’t from or near the towns of Pine Plains or Elizaville.
Syracuse’s run is a shock to most college hoops fans. But Lydon’s season performance is no surprise, LoBrutto said. “Anyone who coached him or saw him play in high school realized he had something special and was gonna be a good player,” he said.
Maybe not to this level, though.
Santoro, whose team faced Pine Plains in 2012, said there were questions about Tyler’s abilities back then. Sure, the height and talent were obvious, but playing for a small school in Class C, some wondered if his production was a product of facing lesser opponents.
“He could shoot, put the ball on the floor and he was good in transition,” Santoro said. “But I remember thinking he’s not that tough and if he didn’t get stronger and tougher, he wouldn’t succeed beyond high school. But the kid kept working hard and proved a lot of people wrong.”
Tyler’s older brother Zach would attest. He, too, believed back then that Tyler needed to “toughen up” to succeed at the next level, which is why he constantly pushed his brother hard in Pine Plains practices.
Following his junior year in 2013, Lydon transferred to a prep school in New Hampshire where he spent two years. There, he gained weight and meliorated his skills against high-level competition. Lydon, who has gained almost 30 pounds and now weighs 208, said he hopes to add 15 pounds of muscle before next season but maintain his quickness.
Hayes said his improvement was so marked that when he returned home last summer, people marveled. That includes former Red Hook players Greg Nero and Kevin Cayea, against whom he played pickup basketball games.
“Going back four years,” Hayes said, “he was good, but I don’t think anyone watching him could’ve predicted he’d be playing a major role on a Final Four team.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4
What: NCAA tournament semifinals
Who: Syracuse vs. North Carolina
When: Saturday, approximately 8:49 p.m.
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston
A case for each of the remaining Final Four teams, 8C
Visit http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com for complete coverage of Pine Plains product Tyler Lydon and Syracuse’s run through the NCAA tournament.