The Quiet Man
Amid the roar of the crowd, the Dukes' captain stands his ground
Flashes of gold and purple, the squeak of sneakers against hardwood, the dull roar of cheers and bullhorns and crowd-rousing trombones fill the expanse of the Convocation Center. Amid the noise and the rush, Tim Lyle moves quietly toward his goal.
The Dukes' captain begins his final year of collegiate basketball with an impressive performance record. In his junior year, he averaged a team-leading 11.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game as a starting forward. Hitting 48.7 percent of his shots, Lyle also led the team in shooting percentage.
At the same time, there are other numbers that matter to Lyle. Numbers like 3.7, which is Lyle's grade point average as an integrated science and technology major concentrating on biotechnology. In the halls of CISAT, among laboratory experiments and the tap-tap of computer keyboards, Lyle also excels. The former high school valedictorian is as comfortable talking about stem cell research as he is talking about free throws and rebounds.
At a time when college sports are often criticized for forgetting the "student" aspect of the "student-athlete," Lyle has struck a balance. "I think every coach in America would want a Tim Lyle on his team," men's basketball head coach Sherman Dillard says. "He epitomizes all that is right with college athletics. Even if he weren't a basketball player, he'd still be a dynamite young man. He just happens to be a basketball player."
Lyle appeared in each of JMU's 29 games, 28 as a starter (no other Duke made more than 22 starts), and played an average of 29.4 minutes per game (second highest on the team). While the Dukes' record was not as strong as in some years, Lyle was named to the CAA district all-academic team and was a finalist for academic All-America honors.
The 6-foot-8-inch, 225-pound player who wears No. 50 says he hopes for an even better season this year. His humility prevents any further prediction.
"I just want to be a good leader," says the thoughtful young man with dark eyes. "I don't want to reach a statistic or a number. I just want to reach my potential as
Coach Dillard expects nothing less. "I just think Timmy has committed himself to total excellence both on and off the court," Dillard says. "We realized that during the recruitment process. Tim has set the bar high for himself, which is evident in his academic success."
Lyle's success in the classroom has been evident to Cynthia A. Klevickis, an integrated science and technology professor who has taught Lyle in several classes. Klevickis says that Lyle has a quiet demeanor, but he always contributes to the discussion.
"When you're trying to explain something, you look at people's faces to see if they're getting it," Klevickis says. "And he always gives great feedback. He always looks very interested."
ISAT takes an interdisciplinary approach, combining social, political and economic topics with science and math. Lyle's concentration in biotechnology presents him with interesting, cutting-edge issues such as genetic testing. While the testing can save lives, it can also brand people as having high potential for certain conditions.
"Our ability to test for some diseases has outpaced our ability to cure some of these diseases," Klevickis says.
Having watched Lyle mature and grow in the last three years, Klevickis says he has a "natural intelligence," but remains "down to earth. ... If he didn't tell me [that he is an athlete], I wouldn't know it. He's done a really good job of hardly ever missing a class and if he does, he goes way beyond to make up for it," she says. "He's just a really nice person, so you wouldn't know he's a star."
Teammates concur that Lyle leads humbly both on and off the court. "Tim Lyle is a class act," says Dwayne Braxton, 2000-2001 team captain and guard for JMU. "He constantly improves every year on and off the court. His hard work in the classroom carries over to the basketball court. Tim is truly the definition of a scholar-athlete."
Lyle has also set the bar high in his spiritual life. Active in Campus Crusade for Christ, Lyle has been on mission trips to Jamaica to help build a school and to Central America where he played basketball and gave testimony through Athletes in Action, a division of Campus Crusade. Lyle also leads teammates in a voluntary Bible study.
Lyle says his choice of attending JMU, in fact, was divinely inspired. Offered scholarships by larger schools to play football, Lyle -- who played football, basketball and ran track at Poca High School in Poca, W.Va. -- chose basketball and JMU.
"I enjoyed playing basketball. If you're going to play in college, it helps to play the one you love," he said. "It's a fast game. Every possession matters. It's just fun."
Lyle, whose father is a civil engineer, had considered attending a school with an engineering program. "When I was being recruited I thought I wanted to do engineering, but I wasn't sure," Lyle says. "It made the decision to come to JMU a little tougher, but it has worked out great. ISAT fits me perfectly, and I really enjoy it."
Lyle excitedly talks about a research paper he recently did on stem cells. He explains the problems with replacement in Parkinson's patients, putting technical jargon into layman's terms. Though biotechnology often leads to ethical questions, Lyle says he does not encounter too many challenges to his belief system.
"Other than the aborted fetuses, there are not that many ethical concerns with the commercial applications that biotechnology is striving for," he says. "I don't foresee any cloning of humans in the future. Most of the stuff is using gene therapy to fight diseases and knowing the genetic codes."
Lyle's teammates also see that his faith is a central part of his life. "Anyone that has ever met Tim thinks the world of him," Charles Hatter, a junior guard, says. "His faith in God is evident, and he leads a good life, even though it is hard sometimes being a basketball player."
Lyle also says that being a college basketball player is not always easy. Yet he had some idea what being a college athlete meant before he came to JMU. His father, Craig, played football at Penn State, his brother, David, ran track at Marshall University, his brother, Seth, played football at Marshall and his grandfather was a gymnastics coach at Penn State.
"Most people would say [the hardest part of college basketball is] the time commitment," Lyle says. "But if you manage your time right I don't think it's that. I think it's the mental focus. ... You really have to be tough mentally. I was ready for the other stuff -- the commitment and the work physically."
Through his hard work, Lyle has received the respect of his teammates and coaches.
"He is without a doubt the only person I know who constantly hustles every second he is on the floor," Braxton says. "When we needed a big shot or a key rebound, Tim seemed to always be there when it counted."
"It all comes from the heart with him, and I think we've come to expect that from Lyle," Dillard says.
Lyle says he doesn't have any definite plans for his life after graduation, but others see success ahead.
"Tim Lyle definitely has a bright future ahead of him, whether it is playing ball after college or in the working field. Tim will be successful at whatever he does," Braxton says.
"He has the confidence, determination, perseverance and intelligence to excel in today's world."
Lyle, a young man comfortable in many different worlds, has a shorter answer. "Whatever the Lord has for my life," he says, "I'm willing to take."
Story by Donna Dunn ('94), Photos by Diane Elliott ('00), and Cathy Kushner ('87)