The Florida Gators were one of the premier college basketball programs in the early and mid-2000s, a run that culminated in back-to-back national championships in ’06 and ’07. However, after 2007, the program has struggled somewhat to return to that level. That is, until this past year. One of the players who helped the Gators advance to the Elite Eight was starting power forward Alex Tyus. Tyus averaged 9.1 points and 6.2 rebounds last season, but saved his best performance for the NCAA Tournament with a 19-point, 17-rebound showing against BYU in the Sweet 16. Alex is known for being a high energy guy with lots of athleticism. I caught up with him at the Nets’ draft workouts this week to talk about his senior year, Rowdy Reptiles and the draft process.
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Dime: You declared for the draft last year and then pulled out. What made you decide to return for your senior season?
Alex Tyus: I just wanted to see where I was at as a player. Everyone’s aspiration and goal is to play in the NBA, so I wanted to kind of get a sense of my standing. I also came back because I felt we had a really good team coming back this past season and wanted to be a part of something special.
Dime: What have you learned in the past year that has made you better prepared for the draft process and the NBA?
AT: I think finding my role in terms of rebounding, running the floor more, playing great defense, and just being an athlete out on the court. I think those are the big things that I did last year that helped our team make a run in the Tournament.
Dime: You participated in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament when a lot of top seniors declined invitations and were one of the standout performers. How do you think that has helped your draft stock?
AT: I mainly wanted to come out and show my athleticism. I wanted to show that I’m one of the best athletes in the draft, and that’s an opportunity I felt like I didn’t want to pass up. I just wanted to compete and start playing.
Dime: Florida made the Elite Eight this year. How exciting was that run and being part of a return to a championship-level at UF?
AT: It was a great run. I had a great time, it was a great experience making it that far and playing in big games, and getting that exposure. It was also great to do that for the university, and obviously having a great game in the Sweet 16 (19 points, 17 rebounds) against BYU to help us get to the Elite Eight was just fantastic.
Dime: During your first two seasons you played out of position at center for Florida. Do you think your willingness to play out of position for the good of the team is a quality scouts are looking at? What position do you see yourself playing in the NBA?
AT: Definitely, the first two years we didn’t really have much of a team. We only had I think eight scholarship guys, and getting to compete and play out of position I think will help me. Also, getting the experience guarding bigger guys and I think this quality will help me make a team at the next level, my willingess to do whatever I can to help the team.
Dime: You almost transferred from Florida after your sophomore year. What made you decide to stay? Are you happy that you did?
AT: I’m definitely glad I stayed. I think it was that we weren’t winning early on, and I didn’t like the losing, and we lost some guys early to the NBA Draft, it was frustrating. But I loved playing at Florida, I wanted to stick it out and we had a great last two years making the Tournament my junior year even though we lost to BYU then the Elite Eight this year.
Dime: What can you bring to an NBA club?
AT: I think I can bring energy, athleticism, defense, length, and rebounding, those types of things.
Dime: Talk about the Rowdy Reptiles (Florida student section) at Florida and the home court advantage they provide almost being on top of the playing surface.
AT: It was big especially for the big games against Kentucky and Tennessee. It’s almost like having the sixth man right there on the court with you. I’m going to miss the Rowdy Reptiles and the college atmosphere, but I’m excited to move on.
Dime: Next year the Gators will have a loaded backcourt with Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, Scottie Wilbekin, Mike Rosario, and Bradley Beal. How do you expect all five guys to get the minutes they want?
AT: They might have to change the rules and play with two basketballs next year. (laughs) They are definitely going to be guard heavy, and they are going to be good, one of the best teams in the country next year. It’s going to be exciting and I’ll definitely stay in touch with some of those guys.
Dime: Talk about Patric Young, a guy who will be expected to help lessen the blow of losing yourself and Vernon Macklin to graduation.
AT: First of all, Pat is a great kid and he works really hard. He is a rare talent with his size and athleticism and right now he’s just learning the game, and I definitely expect him to be great next year. I’m going to keep a lookout for him and stay in touch, and wish him good luck.
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