Tyler Lydon always was an imaginative kid.
During pickup games, the Lydons would pretend the backyard of their Elizaville home was Madison Square Garden, and Tyler and his older brother Zach would take turns “being” former New York Knicks star Patrick Ewing.
Once, while rooting for the Syracuse University men’s basketball team in the NCAA tournament, an 8-year-old Tyler pointed at the TV and told his parents that would be him one day.
And who were Susan and Timothy Lydon to tell their little boy otherwise?
“You can’t tell them their dream is far-fetched or it won’t happen,” Susan Lydon said. “You want to encourage a small child and let them keep dreaming.”
Until it comes true.
Now a freshman on Syracuse’s basketball team, Tyler Lydon will fulfill his dream of experiencing March Madness Friday. Syracuse, a 10th seed in college basketball’s annual year-end tournament, will face No. 7 Dayton in the first round at 12:15 p.m. The game will be shown on CBS.
“It feels great!” Tyler Lydon, 19, said of his team’s inclusion in the 68-team tournament field. “We knew we had a lot of people doubting that we could and that gave us an extra push.”
The 6-foot-8 forward’s success has been met with support and enthusiasm from family, friends and fans from his hometown, who still remember his starring role in Pine Plains’ run to the 2013 Class C state basketball final.
“We’ll go grocery shopping and run into someone I know and they’ll say they watched Tyler on TV,” Susan Lydon said. “I’ve had several people tell me they never watched basketball before but now they do because of him.”
Tyler Lydon has been a key contributor for the Orange in his debut season, averaging 10.1 points and 6.4 rebounds off the bench, and shooting 41 percent from 3-point range. On Dec. 13, he fulfilled those fantasies of playing at Madison Square Garden, when Syracuse faced St. John’s.
An athletic small forward, he also has played power forward and center this season. There even have been whispers of him being a worthy NBA prospect.
This grand stage Lydon now commands doesn’t often open for kids from small towns in upstate New York.
“Someone from around here reaching that level doesn’t happen often,” said Brendan LoBrutto, the Pine Plains boys basketball coach, who coached Lydon for three seasons. “People here know about Tyler, and it shows young kids that it’s possible to reach your goals.”
Tyler’s younger brothers, Jacob and Logan, among them.
There also have been highlight moments this season — ones that made spectators take notice: When Lydon scored 21 points, including four three-pointers, against Pittsburgh; and when he had eight points and nine rebounds to help stun powerhouse Duke, 64-62, part of a mid-season stretch in which the Orange won seven of eight games.
“It’s different watching games now because you’re rooting so hard for your friend,” said Justin Cooper, the point guard on that 2013 Pine Plains team. Cooper now plays for SUNY Cortland, along with Zach Lydon, Tyler’s older brother. The two frequently make the 35-mile drive to Syracuse to watch Tyler.
And Tyler keeps up with his hometown sports. He followed excitedly — via social media and word of mouth — as the Pine Plains girls basketball team reached the state final this month.
Lydon, too, is readying for a big game. Well, if all goes as he hopes, it will be a series of big games in the coming weeks, as long as his team keeps winning.
“I’m definitely anxious,” he said. “You dream of being in this position as a kid and to have it actually happening is unbelievable.”
But his fantasies weren’t quite chimera. See, Timothy Lydon is 6-foot-6 and Susan is 6-foot-2. His mother is one of the all-time leading scorers at Red Hook High School (under her maiden name of Susan Mergendahl) and she went on to play at Dutchess Community College. Basketball — and height — runs in the family.
Susan Lydon worked with her four boys to develop their shooting form. It quickly clicked for Tyler, and at 14 he was almost 6-foot-4.
“We all knew he had a high ceiling,” Cooper said. “In sophomore year, he was like 6-foot-6 and had talent and a great work ethic. We knew he’d go far.”
There also was an intense competitive spirit. LoBrutto would put Zach and Tyler on different teams in scrimmages and, despite being more than a year younger, Tyler refused to relent to his 6-foot-9 brother.
“He had the size and the touch and could run the floor,” LoBrutto said. “The major colleges were after him early.”
Following his junior year and the run to the state finals — “an amazing time … When I’m back home, we get together and still talk about that season,” Tyler Lydon said — he transferred to New Hampton School, a prep school in New Hampshire, where he played two seasons. There, he faced stiffer competition, which he said prepared him well for the collegiate level.
In June 2014, he played a key role on the United States men’s basketball team to win a gold medal at the Under-18 FIBA Americas Championship. Lydon averaged 5.8 points and a team-high 6.4 rebounds during the tournament.
He now is a communications major at Syracuse, though Lydon said he’s considering adding a double major this fall, one that will involve environmental studies to feed his nature fascination. Lydon said his schedule now goes,“Classes, basketball, sleep, wake up and repeat.”
Syracuse is a perennial basketball power, but there were doubts this season, in large part because the program was embroiled in a scandal involving academic misconduct between 2001 and 2012. The NCAA’s punishment included the Orange being docked 12 scholarships over four years and legendary head coach Jim Boeheim being suspended nine games this season.
Syracuse is 19-13 and the loss to Pitt in the second round of the ACC tournament was its third straight defeat. But all that was made moot when the NCAA selection committee deemed the Orange good enough to earn a tournament berth.
“We addressed (the controversy) at the start of the year, but we weren’t involved and you can’t dwell on it,” said Lydon. “I’m extremely proud that we’ve made it to this point.”
“Mental toughness” and unwavering confidence are the areas in which Lydon said he has most improved. And he hopes to add 15 pounds of muscle to his 208-pound frame this summer.
Lydon has also heard the murmurs of his NBA potential, and he said he is frequently compared to Dallas Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons. That talk, he said, is premature and he focuses on “living in the moment.” Nevertheless, playing in the NBA remains his ultimate goal.
“It definitely won’t be simple or easy, but it’s an aspiration,” he said. “That’s been my dream since I was little.”
And who are we to tell him otherwise?
Stephen Haynes: email@example.com, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4
What: First-round men’s basketball game between No. 10 Syracuse and No. 7 Dayton
Where: Scottrade Center, St. Louis
When: 12:15 p.m. Friday
On the Web: Visit http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com to read more about Tyler Lydon and to check out results from the NCAA tournament
2015-16 season (32 games)
30.3 minutes per game
10.1 points per game
6.4 rebounds per game
1.5 blocks per game
48.9 field-goal percentage
41.7 3-point percentage