By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — When Greg Lyons attended UVa, its basketball teams were based in University Hall.
A decade later, the home of UVa hoops is John Paul Jones Arena. The new director of operations for Virginia women’s basketball can’t believe his good fortune.
“This place is a palace,” Lyons said. “It’s amazing that I get to go to work here every day.”
Lyons and his wife, the former Lisa Hosac, have two children, Connor and Katie. The kids are growing up in a basketball family. Lisa played for Debbie Ryan at UVa and later coached at South Carolina, George Mason and American.
Greg, a high school teammate of Willie Dersch, played first for Jeff Jones and then for Pete Gillen at Virginia. After graduating in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, Lyons spent two seasons on Dave Odom’s staff at South Carolina, where Lisa, then his girlfriend, was working for women’s coach Susan Walvius.
The Gamecocks’ strength-and-conditioning coach for basketball in 2001-02, coincidentally, was Mike Curtis, who now holds that position in the men’s program at UVa. His friendship with Greg and Lisa dates to their days at Virginia — Curtis played for Jones — and they’ve stayed in touch over the years, no matter how many miles have separated them.
So when Curtis heard this summer that Erin Batth, Ryan’s director of operations for the past three seasons, was leaving to become an assistant coach at Towson, he thought immediately of Greg and Lisa. Never mind that they were living in Boise, Idaho.
“I mentioned something to Debbie, told her the Lyonses may be interested,” Curtis recalled this week. “I didn’t single out one person. But I knew Greg missed basketball and missed athletics.”
Lisa was qualified for the job, but with two young children, she didn’t think it would work, “especially with the traveling,” Ryan said.
For Lisa’s husband, though, the opportunity seemed perfect.
“Greg was just such a great candidate, because he has such an awesome background and has had some incredible experiences with some incredible coaches, guys I really respect on the men’s side,” Ryan said. “For me it was a no-brainer, because he’s already done it.”
A good director of operations, Ryan said, has “to be able to make everything easier for the three assistant coaches. If the three assistant coaches say, ‘He does everything,’ or ‘She does everything,’ it’s an amazing compliment. Because that way they can just coach.”
Ryan needed no introduction to Lyons. They’d met when Lyons was at UVa, dating Hosac.
“I knew Debbie just from going to all of Lisa’s games,” Lyons recalled. “Debbie was always easy to talk to, and she was nice right back to me.”
They have more common than basketball. Like Ryan, Lyons is a cancer survivor. After graduating from Holy Cross High in Queens, N.Y., in fact, he delayed his enrollment at UVa for a year to receive treatment.
“The first thing I was impressed with was the way he handled the cancer issue, when he came in here [in 1997],” Ryan said. “Then of course I talked to him a number of times. He visited me in my home when I was sick.”
“There’s a very unique bond between cancer survivors. The minute you meet it’s like you’ve known each other forever.”
Lyons, 32, worked under Jones at American University for four seasons, the first (2003-04) as director of operations. Lyons’ colleagues at AU included Jason Williford, another former UVa player who’s now one of Tony Bennett’s assistants.
“He’s the quickest, sharpest guy with a one-liner I know, besides Jim Reid,” Williford said of Lyons, who grew up on Long Island, N.Y.
Williford has been involved in college athletics since he stopped playing professionally. Lyons got out for a few years. After the 2006-07 season, he and Lisa moved to Boise, where Lyons worked in real estate development with her father and one of her brothers.
“It was one of those things,” Lyons said. “We’d just had our first child, and we were living in D.C., and you don’t make as much as an assistant as some people might think.
“We had to make a life decision. In hindsight, I don’t know if it was the right one. We had a great three years, but I really missed college athletics. It feels right to go to work here every day.”
JPJ wasn’t here when Lyons attended the University, but much is still the same around Grounds. In the athletics department, he’s enjoyed catching up not only with Curtis and Williford, but with such longtime employees as Craig Littlepage, Ethan Saliba, Suzanne Haney, Jason Bauman, Brenda Stevens, Gary Fewell and Brenda Stevens.
“There have just been so many welcoming, familiar faces that have made the transition easy,” Lyons said.
In his new post, he faces another transition: the move from men’s to women’s basketball. Because of his wife’s background, Lyons knows the women’s game better than most men, and he’s confident he’ll fit in on Ryan’s staff.
“There’s a difference between men’s and women’s basketball,” Lyons said, “but at the end of the day it’s basketball. It’s about the relationships you’re able to build with the players and coaches.”