HOOPS STAR TRAVELS BACK TO FUTURE-Tyrell Mara returns to Canada to play for TWU

Tyrell Mara at the LEC

Tuesday, September 08,2009
Michael Booth – Surrey Now.

HOOPS STAR TRAVELS BACK TO FUTURE
-Tyrell Mara returns to Canada to play for Trinity Western University

Surrey, B.C.
- The more things change, the more they stay the same -- just ask Tyrell Mara.

Five years ago, Mara was a student, living in his parents' home and playing basketball for his school under head coach Scott Allen.

Fast-forward to today and you'll find that Mara is now a student, living in his parents' home and, well, playing basketball for his school under head coach Scott Allen.

"Looking back five years, I would never have thought this is how it would have ended up," the now 22-year-old Mara says with a bemused shake of his head.

"It's been an interesting kind of road so far and I think it has strengthened me. I've learned the lessons I needed to get to this point and now it's time to focus on the next journey."

After a stellar high school career with high school basketball powerhouse White Rock Christian Academy, Mara accepted a scholarship offer to play big time NCAA Division 1 basketball at Portland State University. Unfortunately for him, the circumstances at the school and its hoops program changed dramatically between the time he signed on for the scholarship and the first day he walked through the gym doors as a player.

The coach who recruited him left the school before he arrived and Mara did not fit in with the plans of the new coach. So as a freshman, Mara had to prove his worth to the coaches and establish himself as a college player.

The changes created a tough environment for him and he learned fast that college basketball in the United States is more about business than academics and school pride.

"College sports are way different there," Mara says. "There's an added level of pressure with everything that happens. The success of the coach and the success of the team is tied to the financial success of the school and the athletic programs. That added pressure creates an environment where everything counts and the results of every game is tied to the future of the coach and the team."

Mara spent four years at Portland State, where he played for three seasons but sat out his sophomore season with a knee injury. He came back strong from that setback and helped the Vikings win back-to-back Big Sky Conference championships and qualify for the school's first two appearances in the NCAA's annual March Madness championship tournament. In both of those years, Mara was selected to be team captain in a vote by his teammates.

In his first trip to the NCAA's big dance, eventual champion Kansas knocked out Portland State in the first round.

"Oh yeah, the only team to beat us went on to win the national championship," Mara jokes. "There's no doubt that if we had won that game we'd have gone all the way."

Last spring the Vikings were back where they lost to Xavier in the first round, a team that advanced as far as the round of 16.

"Looking back on it now, all of the struggles I went through just made those moments that much sweeter," he says. "To win two Big Sky championships and to be the captain on both of those teams plus to go to the NCAAs, it was awesome.

"To be a part of that for two years in a row is something that I'll have the honour of telling my grandkids about and I'll live with that for the rest of my life."

Mara used his time wisely in Portland, finishing a degree in business management before the end of what was officially his junior season. With his sheepskin diploma in his pocket, Mara returned to Canada where he found a new home waiting for him in remarkably familiar circumstances.

His old high school coach, Allen, is now the head coach at Trinity Western University in Langley, just a half-hour drive from the Mara family home. Mara left Portland State with two years of athletic eligibility remaining, a number that dovetails nicely with the length of the MBA program in which he is currently enrolled at Trinity Western.

Most importantly, he has been welcomed with open arms by Allen and the rest of TWU's basketball community.

"Our team desperately needed a player like him," Allen says. "He's a vital key to any success we want to achieve this year. He brings a more physical toughness on the floor and leadership. That plus his experience make him a very valuable addition to our program."

Mara admits the idea of playing for Allen -- a man he considers a mentor -- made the decision to join the Spartans an easy one.

"One thing I know from my years at White Rock and what I'm looking forward to here is there is a unique culture and environment to this team," he says. "That's something that's special and hard to find."

That's not to say the move back over the border is going to be an easy one. In his years at Portland State, Mara was used as a forward with a role requiring tough work under the basket. With an eye on a vague, long-term goal of playing professionally in Europe down the road, Allen will be shifting Mara into a perimeter role where he will get his minutes as a small forward or shooting guard.

"It's going to a hard transition for him, there's no doubt," Allen says. "For the last four years he hasn't had the luxury of being a perimeter player; he's always had to do all the dirty work. He doesn't have a lot of experience doing that and he's getting a lot of touches on the ball now in practice. He's definitely not comfortable right now so it's a hard transition for him."

The Spartans began their season preparations last week with a training camp in Langley. Mara's presence was felt immediately and before the week was up, his peers had already voted Mara as a co-captain.

"He has a very strong calming effect on the team and his expectation are high of everybody around him," Allen said. "He sets a great tone for our practices and his presence is already being felt. You don't have to tell Tyrell to play hard and the rest of the guys are starting to get the idea that when the captain of your team is taking three charges in a five-minute span, the rest of the guys are going, 'Wow. If he's doing that, I had better start making the same effort.'"

When Mara and Allen last joined forces, the White Rock Christian Academy Warriors won the B.C. high school hoops championship. The duo is hoping Mara's return to comfortable surroundings sparks a championship run for Spartans next spring.

Last Updated: 2009-09-09
Author: Michael Booth-Surrey Now