Robin Bruno was brought to tears last Sunday:
Overcome with emotion, she watched Syracuse in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Overwhelmed and, partially in disbelief, she witnessed Tyler Lydon deliver in the clutch, as the Orange rallied in the second half to stun top-seeded Virginia and advance to the Final Four.
Overjoyed, she still remembers when that kid used to walk into the guidance office at Stissing Mountain High School, ever-pleasant demeanor, and having to duck his head beneath the door jamb. Bruno remembers Lydon when he wasn’t — well, he was never exactly little — as big. Or, as big a deal.
“It’s been surreal and I still can’t believe it,” said Bruno, a secretary in the school’s guidance office. “I’ve known him since he was in middle school, so it’s amazing seeing him do what he’s doing now.”
Lydon, an Elizaville native, has shot into the national spotlight as a 6-foot-8 freshman, starring on national television in recent weeks, helping lead Syracuse on its improbable run to the Final Four. Along the way, folks in his hometown and old high school have followed closely and brimmed with pride. With each step forward, Lydon carries with him the full support of that district and its burgeoning athletic reputation.
Lydon had 11 points, six rebounds and five blocks against Virginia on Sunday, helping 10th-seeded Syracuse top Virginia, 68-62. The Orange erased a 16-point deficit to pull the upset. This, coming after Syracuse rallied to beat Gonzaga, 63-60, in the Sweet 16 round on Friday, thanks in large part to Lydon’s key block and clinching free throws with a second left.
The Orange (23-13), again an underdog, will face North Carolina on Saturday at approximately 8:49 p.m. at NRG Stadium in Houston. Several of Lydon’s relatives and friends plan to make the trip to Texas, including his aunt Ellie Lydon.
“I’ve been a basketball fan all my life,” she said, “but having someone in the family doing what he’s doing now and getting this far has made it a dream come true.”
Imagine that: The big stage featuring the big kid from a tiny school in a tiny town in Northern Dutchess County.
Stissing Mountain High School has only 239 students enrolled this year. And, many of them have quickly become members of “Orange Nation.”
“He’s playing phenomenal and had the second biggest block in Syracuse history,” said Randy Ean, a Stissing Mountain senior, “behind Hakim Warrick’s in the NCAA final (in 2003). It was huge. To do that as a freshman, it’s crazy. We’re really happy for him.”
Lydon, along with his older brother Zach, helped lead the Pine Plains basketball team to the Class C state final in 2013. It was during that run when the acclaim and accolades really began pouring in for Tyler, when a larger audience got a glimpse of what those who know him had long believed he was capable of. Following his junior year, Tyler transferred to a prep school in New Hampshire. There, the Division I college offers piled up and he eventually chose to remain in his home state and play for the team he grew up rooting for as a child.
Although Lydon has been gone for almost three years — counting two at New Hampton School, a prep school in New Hampshire — the students and faculty still consider him their own. And Lydon does, too.
“It’s pretty sweet seeing someone from your school on TV,” said Henry Roemer, a junior at Stissing Mountain. “Watching (Tyler) when I was little definitely gave me the idea of playing basketball at a high level.”
Ashley Starzyk shares something in common with Lydon. The junior, earlier this month, led the Pine Plains girls basketball team to a Class C state final. She also playfully shared memories of getting dunked on by Lydon in a pickup game.
“I’m a Syracuse fan now because of him,” she said. “It’s really cool to be able to say that Tyler went to our school. I watch him closely in games and I learn something new every time. This is very exciting for everybody here.”
Stephen Haynes: email@example.com, 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
Visit http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com for complete coverage of Pine Plains product Tyler Lydon and Syracuse’s run through the NCAA tournament.