Heart over height.
It’s a message that 5-foot-7, 160-pound Chris Lykes has tattooed across his chest and a motto he has lived by his entire life.
Lykes, a freshman at the University of Miami, was ranked No. 48 as a recruit on the ESPN Top-100 list. Described as an explosive point guard with the ability to attack the basket and shoot from long distances, he was a highly-coveted prospect.
But that wasn’t always the case.
“There was always doubt,” Lykes said. “In middle school, it was like, ‘Okay, well can he do it in high school?’ And in high school, it’s like, ‘Well can he do that in college?’ I just gotta keep proving people wrong.”
Lykes, a native of Mitchellville, Maryland, averaged 22 points and more than four assists per game while shooting 47 percent from the three-point line in his junior season at Gonzaga College High School. He was named Washington D.C.’s Gatorade Player of the Year that season.
That’s when he started getting calls from some of the best basketball programs in the country.
In November 2016, he decided to go with the major school that gave him his first offer, UM – a place where undersized guards, such as Shane Larkin and Angel Rodriguez, excelled.
“It’s one of the main reasons why I came here,” Lykes said. “Coach tells me that we run a lot of ball screens, and that really helps for me to be able to make plays. I can maybe get the big to switch off, and then I’m pretty much faster than the big, so I can attack or kick it.”
Lykes has carried a chip on his shoulder since he was young. Whenever he gets on the court, his motivation is to show people not only that he belongs, but that size doesn’t always matter in basketball.
He has never looked at his size as a weakness, choosing to be thankful for his talents and embracing the challenge.
“He’s never let that be a determinant to who he is and what he’s capable of being,” his high school coach Stephen Turner said. “He’s always been that little monster on the court. Some assume just because he’s this little guy that they can take advantage of him, but he has never let that stop him.”
Lykes, a high energy player whom Miami coach Jim Larrañaga has compared to 5-foot-9 NBA All-Star Isaiah Thomas, has translated this mindset into an attacking mentality on the court, which helps him succeed no matter who he is playing against.
“When I was younger, my parents use to always tell me ‘No fear,’” Lykes said. “That was my nickname for a while because I would do things on the court without necessarily thinking about the consequences. I don’t fear anybody on the court – I don’t fear anyone in general.”
The Miami coaching staff and players look at Lykes’ size as an advantage. Because he stays low to the ground with the ball in his hands, he’s that much harder to guard when he uses his speed and agility to get past the defender.
No one can attest to this more than fellow freshman guard Lonnie Walker, a five-star recruit out of Reading, Pennsylvania. During a span of just a few months, Walker and Lykes have become best friends. They even refer to themselves as “twin brothers” because of their similar personalities.
Walker calls himself Lykes’ biggest fan.
“You don’t see anyone like Chris,” Walker said. “Name another 5-foot-7 guard who can dominate almost anywhere at any type of level. I gave him his own definition. If you do something that’s crazy, that’s just Chris.”
Lykes’ attitude doesn’t change off the court. Turner said he has always been a natural leader – “the guy that people follow.”
“Most guys walk around the big, buff quarterback – the pretty boy,” Turner said. “Lykes kind of changed that perception. He’s not just a vocal leader, he leads by example.”
Lykes is also changing the academic narrative for collegiate athletes. He wants to study mechanical engineering while at Miami and has talked about his passion to build.
“It’s a tough degree to chase, but he doesn’t settle for average,” Turner said. “Teachers love him because he works so hard. He’s a true testament to what it means to be a student-athlete.”
Lykes is expected to be the “energy guy,” to push the pace, make plays and score as soon as he comes off the bench this season. Miami’s 2017 opener against Gardner-Webb University is set for an 8 p.m. tipoff Nov. 10 at the Watsco Center.
“He’s never been the nervous type, at least he doesn’t show it,” Turner said when asked about Lykes’ emotions prior to his first game. “He just steps up to the challenge.”