(The below article and interview was by Vince Baldassano)
Don't expect incoming freshman Syracuse Orange guard Tyus Battle to wilt under the searing spotlight that comes with being one of the most heralded Syracuse recruits since Melo. Battle's grown accustomed to the glare of attention and expectations since grammar school.
Young Tyus' passion for basketball didn't come right away. When Tyus started getting interested in sports at about age six, he was drawn to baseball and football. His father, Gary, was a high school hoops standout in New Jersey, who went on to play college ball, and thought his son would excel on the hardwood. Gary encouraged Tyus to do fifteen minutes of ball handling every day, and it sparked his interest in the game.
Soon thereafter, Tyus began to focus on hoops and quickly realized he was pretty darn good at it. At the ripe old age of ten, Tyus had already picked up his now well-known nickname-- Kid Mamba. Did a comparison to perennial NBA All-Star and future Hall of Famer Kobe "Black Mamba" Bryant put too much pressure on young Tyus?
"I liked the nickname. I emulated my game after (Kobe). When I stepped on the floor, I tried to think like Kobe, and what would Kobe do in this situation," Tyus said.
An Edison, NJ native, Tyus started getting recruiting letters as a freshman in high school. He finished a prolific high school career at St. Joseph's (Metuchen, NJ) with an outstanding senior season. He transferred to St. Joe's for his final season in order to fulfill a dream he and his freshman brother, Khalif, had to play together. The transfer worked out well for Tyus. Bouncing back from an injury-plagued junior year, the versatile 6'6" combo guard filled every column for the Falcons, averaging 19.1 points, 9.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.7 steals, en route to being named the Gatorade Player of the Year in New Jersey.
After his high school season ended , Tyus continued a rigorous training regiment in the gym and weight room, all geared towards getting him ready for the next level. Meanwhile, Tyus' favorite player, Kobe Bryant, retired just one month ago to much fanfare.
Exit: Black Mamba. Enter: Kid Mamba.
Tyus's official journey in orange starts very soon. He graduates from St. Joe's on May 26th. He will hit the SU campus on May 21st and enroll in the summer session, getting an early start academically (Tyus plans to study Information Technology), and being able to access the Melo Center.
Battle has been told by the Syracuse staff that he will be a major focal point in 2016-2017, assuming a similar role to what Michael Gbinije played this past season. "They said I'm definitely going to have to come in and score, handle the ball. I'm playing the point guard/ two guard, switching on and off. And just impact the game any way possible defensively, offensively, just being a great leader on the floor and hopefully leading the team to a National Championship," Tyus said with enthusiasm.
These are lofty goals for a teenager coming in to fill big shoes and playing in the best conference in America. "In the ACC, you're playing against the top talent of players but also the top talent of coaches. You have to bring it every single game. You have to be mentally there. It takes a lot out of you and I'm ready for that challenge."
One possible question mark about Tyus' game is his outside shooting. A gifted slasher and elite athlete with court savvy and vision, Tyus is very eager to quiet his critics about his jumper. "I'm very confident. I can shoot from all positions (on the floor): three-ball, pull up, mid-range and I get to the basket well. I'm always working on it, trying to improve that. I'm going to surprise some people next year."
On the flip side of the court, Battle is a relentless on-ball defender and he's looking forward to playing in the Syracuse zone. "I'm excited to play in the 2-3. It's Coach Boeheim's historic defense and it's been effective. You saw that in the (NCAA) Tournament. I think next year we can be effective with it because we're going to have a pretty big team."
One guy on the team who is really big is 7'2" center Paschal Chukwu, who will be eligible to play after sitting out this season following his transfer from Providence. After watching Chukwu's game film, Tyus can't wait to watch the big fly swatter set up defensively down low. "He'll cause a lot of trouble for the offensive players when they're driving down the lane. We have guys swarming you and then we have (Chukwu) in the middle, just in case someone gets by us. It's gonna cause a lot of havoc."
The SU backcourt got a big boost and much-needed depth when they added lightning-quick 5th-year graduate transfer point guard John Gillon to the fold. Perhaps adding the speedy Gillon signals the Orange may look to push the pace and that's something Battle would welcome. "I think that's what I excel at. On the fast break, getting to the basket, trying to dunk the ball. I'm think I'm pretty fast, pushing the ball up the court," Battle said excitedly.
Tyus is enthusiastic about another Syracuse newcomer, lanky 6'8" freshman forward Matthew Moyer, whom he sees as a future fan favorite. "Matt's a very hard worker, grabs every board, tries to dunk everything. I just think he'll bring a lot of energy and just get the whole Dome jumping. He loves Syracuse too. He really does."
(Writer's note: Battle said that he and Moyer will be roommates this year. This writer has come up with a nickname for the duo: "Battle & Rattle." Moyer is very quiet and unassuming until he dunks in your face. Thus, a comparison to a rattlesnake striking out of nowhere. A mamba snake and a rattler. Also, Tyus told me he really likes the nickname, so I'm going to roll with it.)
All of this sounds great, but a lot of air would go out of the Orange balloon if Malachi Richardson decides to stay in the NBA Draft. A potentially great team would lose a huge piece of the puzzle.
Even so, Orange fans have good reasons to be enthusiastic about next season. For Kid Mamba, the feeling is mutual. "I can't wait to step on the floor and I have 'Syracuse' across my chest. I think a lot of people might think we might be a little down, just like they thought this past year. I always love proving people wrong. That's what always drove me, so I can't wait to do that next year."
Follow Vince on Twitter @IommiCuseFan