The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
Editor’s note: The following column from the Best of West collection was originally published in the Port Arthur News on Nov. 15, 1991.
B.J. Tyler is easy to spot in the University of Texas team picture on the back of the 1991-92 media guide. In what’s a not-so-subtle message about UT coach Tom Penders plans for the upcoming season, the former Lincoln all-stater is the only one of the 13 Longhorns in the photograph holding a basketball.
The message is simple and direct. Penders wants the ball in Tyler’s hands as much as possible. After watching his sophomore transfer from DePaul operate in practice while restoring eligibility the past year, Penders feels Tyler is ready to explode onto the collegiate scene.
“We didn’t face a point guard in a game last year who was better than B.J,” the UT boss fairly gushes. “He’s going to surprise a lot of people who aren’t aware of him. He has the talent and confidence in himself to be exceptional. He will have the ball most of the time.”
Tyler, who put on a dazzling 22-point, 16 assist performance in an Orange-White game last week, makes his official Longhorn debut Saturday night in an exhibition against Athletes in Action. The regular season opener follows next Wednesday against Washington in the opening round of the Pre-Season NIT.
For B.J., the 21 months since he’s played in a real game has been painful but productive. He feels the unhappy experience at DePaul helped him mature as a person, and he’s convinced going against talented Joey Wright every day in practice last year developed him into a more complete basketball player.
“I have no regrets about going to DePaul, or not being able to play last year, he says. “The time I spent in Chicago gave me a chance to grow up. My experience there made it a lot easier for me to adjust academically at Texas. My game is better than ever because I was able to work on my weaknesses last year.”
While Tyler was working on his weaknesses, he was making an indelible impression on Texas players and coaches. Penders, who’s been without a true point guard during his three years with the Longhorns, watched Tyler’s daily confrontations against Wright with a keen sense of anticipation.
“B.J. was one heckuva practice player,” Penders recalls. “He would tear up our defense on a consistent basis. You couldn’t help but be excited over the possibilities once he was eligible to play. He’s the kind of player coaches Love.”
Penders, who unsuccessfully tried to recruit Tyler out of Lincoln, is so confident in his abilities he’ll operate with few restrictions. It’s a drastic change for Tyler, who was kept on a tight leash in Joey Meyer’s conservative system at DePaul.
“DePaul was bad choice for B.J.” Penders says. “He was stuck in a system where he couldn’t do the things he does best. It was like a great passing quarterback signing with a wishbone team. B.J is a creator. He is an up-tempo player. He has terrific court awareness. He knows where everybody is and where the ball needs to be.”
It doesn’t take Tyler long to sum up his feelings about being in Penders’ system or attending school at UT.
“I love it here,” he says. “This is paradise. Coach Penders’ style is just what I needed. We’re going to be pressing 40 minutes a game, running after missed and made shots and putting it up a lot because we have good shooters. We have a chance to be good and we could be great.”
Penders, meanwhile, gets the supreme compliment B.J. could pay any coach.
“I feel like a point guard again,” he declares. “Coach Penders gives me the same feeling Coach (James) Gamble did at Lincoln, like I’m his coach on the floor. I’m a player who was molded by Coach Gamble. He taught me to do whatever it took to win. That’s the way it is with Coach Penders.”
The mutual admiration society between Tyler and Penders doesn’t stop on the basketball floor. Penders thinks Tyler is as good for Texas’ program off the court as he expects him to be on it. Whenever recruits are in for a visit, he makes sure B.J. spends time with them. When Penders needs a player to take out into the community, he goes looking for B.J.
“He’s an ambassador for our program,” says Penders. “We have this neighborhood Longhorn program where we go out into various parts of the city, visit with the kids and give away basketballs. B.J. is always ready to go. The kids love him. We don’t have anybody who represents the university or the program better than he does.”
While Tyler’s primary on-court role at UT is to run the offense, Penders’ system also gives the point guard an opportunity to score. It’s in the scoring part of his game, actually the jump-shooting part, that B.J. feels he benefited most from the year he couldn’t play.
People said my weakness was that I couldn’t shoot.” he said. “I’ve worked on my shooting and now I feel it’s one of the stronger points of my game. With the jumper, I have more options. When they play me to drive, I’m going to shoot the jumper. I can hit the three-pointer and coach has given me the freedom to shoot it.”
Tyler, it would seem, has everything going for him at UT a player could want. Well, almost everything.
“I miss the fans at Lincoln,” he said. “I wish they could be here every time I play. Be sure and tell them we play in Houston twice this year. I expect them to be there for the Houston game (Feb. 9) and the Rice game (March 5).”
Consider them told, B.J.
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at email@example.com.