CHICAGO — Tom Lyles often hears his son talking on the phone, planning for his basketball future at the University of Kentucky.
One day, Trey Lyles might be speaking to fellow UK signee Tyler Ulis. The next day, it could be Karl Towns Jr. or Devin Booker on the other end of the line.
The gist of the conversation is always the same.
"They talk on a regular basis," Tom Lyles told the Herald-Leader. "And they're talking about learning from what they're watching the group do right now. And how they're coming together. And understanding that — if they're wanting to do something great — it's not about the individual, it's about the team."
The elder Lyles spoke from the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse — home of the Indiana Pacers — just a few minutes after his son led Arsenal Tech High School to its first Indiana state championship.
The younger Lyles has learned over the past few years what it means to be a team player, the sacrifices that are required to become a champion in a group sport.
Trey Lyles — a 6-foot-10 forward and one of the best high school basketball players in the country — could have played for any prep school in the United States. Instead, he stuck with Arsenal Tech, a 102-year-old Indianapolis public school that had never won a state title but had a talented group of seniors that dreamt of being the first to do it.
"I'm just thankful that I have the teammates that I have," Trey Lyles said Saturday night, the net from the state title game around his neck. "We play as a team at all times. And I wouldn't have wanted to do it with any other group."
Tom Lyles would have been justified if he'd spent the first few moments following Saturday's game bragging about his son's individual accomplishments. Over the next few weeks, Trey will play in the McDonald's All-American Game, the Nike Hoop Summit and the Jordan Brand Classic — the three biggest post-season events for high school basketball players.
After that, Trey will head to Lexington as a member of the Kentucky Wildcats, one of four teams still playing in the NCAA Tournament and the "it" destination for the nation's top recruits.
Tom Lyles didn't talk about his son as the next big superstar. He talked about his son as the next great teammate.
"One thing that he's done that I'm so impressed with is that he genuinely loves his teammates," he said. "You have to trust your teammates, because you can't do it by yourself. You can lose a game by yourself, but you can't win it by yourself. You need four other guys to get the job done."
Tom Lyles was speaking less than 24 hours after Kentucky defeated Louisville a couple of blocks away to secure a spot in the Elite Eight. When the conversation turned to the Cats, Lyles' father used the word "we" to describe them.
The family wasn't able to go to see the UK and U of L the night before, but they already feel like they're part of the UK basketball family.
That's a feeling shared by Towns and Ulis and Booker, the three high school seniors who will share the Rupp Arena court with Lyles next season. They'll share the United Center court for Wednesday's McDonald's All-American Game.
The four future Cats — all committed to UK since November — have watched the current team experience ups and downs over the past few months. They've seen another group of high school stars — six McDonald's All-Americans in the freshman class — go from individuals to teammates, an evolution that could result in a national championship next week in North Texas.
These four recruits have talked about what it takes to get that far, and they all know it starts with playing for each other. Tom Lyles said his son came to that realization on his own.
He obviously hasn't seen as much of Towns and Ulis and Booker. But he likes the conversations he's been overhearing.
"Can you make the other people around you better? To me, that's what defines your worth as a ballplayer," Tom Lyles said. "It's not about you going out and getting 30 or 40 points and losing. It's about you going out and doing what it takes to make the play to win.
"I think he really understood that — the personal accolades are great — but to go down in history, to win a championship, that's even greater. Because, no matter what, that's a hard feat to accomplish at any level."
Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com