Coaches Rory Poplion and Shaun Dumas are churning up a championship culture in New Orleans like Sean Payton and Drew Brees. Their efforts are bringing global attention and building lasting legacies that will ensure the pounding of a basketball is part of the city’s soundtrack for decades to come. This edition of Building the Culture looks at the Nicholls State University Colonels playing in these legend building New Orleans Invite Only Open Runs.

“No one can procrastinate when looking to improve, there are no shortcuts to success.”

The Nicholls State Colonels had a presence in the New Orleans Open Runs this summer. The coaching staff was pleased to hear Ryghe Lyons, Latrell Jones, and Kevin Johnson had a chance to play together during this pandemic through the summer break.

Much like Shaun Dumas and Rory Poplion, Nicholls State Head Coach Austin Claunch is trying to imprint a winning attitude that infects his program’s culture and inspires players while also building up a hoops community in Thibodaux. That lasting success would be a launchpad to bigger opportunities for players and coaches alike.

That’s the dream, the rewards of a grueling process towards success and achievement. To get there, they have to put in the work.

For Lyons, Jones, and Johnson, the decades of work are paying off but talking with them it is apparent they are still pushing for more, still striving for greatness in life and a blessed basketball career. That led them to the Crescent City High School gym this summer to test themselves against current pros while being mentored by Dumas and Poplion.

Jones (Archbishop Shaw/Avondale, LA) is an incoming transfer from the University of Portland getting an opportunity closer to home. Johnson (E.D. White/Thibodaux, LA) is a grad transfer heading to the UIC Flames to get one more look from pro scouts while furthering his education.

Lyons, who I met in a gym with no air conditioning back when the pandemic first broke out, is looking to put one last stamp on his Nicholls State Legacy Passport. Lyons (John Curtis/Slidell, LA) has been grinding and growing to build up the Nicholls State program since day one on campus. As he explains, “When I signed to Nicholls the basketball program was not known for winning. People would tell you that you would never win at that school. THEY WERE WRONG. This has been an incredible 4 years…We change the program forever.”

A fast start this fall will help Nicholls State avoid the fluke label being applied to last season. The Colonels were picked to finish 11th last preseason. They took second place in 2019-20, bagging 20-plus victories for just the fourth time in program history. Claunch & Company kicked off the year with some flair, nearly knocking off Illinois in the season opener before upsetting Pitt on the road just days later; additionally, the Colonels challenged both No. 23 LSU (10-point loss) and mid-major power Rhode Island (five-point loss) in their own houses, leading each on numerous occasions throughout the contests.

Nicholls State’s program got a fresh start from a familiar face with new head coach Austin Claunch. He was an assistant when he recruited Lyons to campus. Now Lyons is being recognized by Athlon Magazine as a Pre-Season First Team Southland Conference selection. It is an honor but it also comes with responsibilities, expectations, and a bulls-eye on his back for an SLC big wanting to prove they were slighted. Lyons has big enough shoulders to carry the burden and lead this team to the NCAA March Madness Tournament.

Claunch explained, “He is a great passer, a great low post scorer, his size of course. He gives a big presence defensively, but more than anything his leadership is his best attribute. He is an unbelievable person around campus, just the best person to be around all day.”

Ryghe Lyons will have European scouts traveling to South Louisiana to watch games. However, it seems at times like he wanted to play fair on the court when given his size, skill set, and shooting range, it really isn’t. Or it shouldn’t be anyways. Coach him up enough to convince him he has ‘’Permission to Dominate’ (ala Zion Williamson) and Nichols State could make a Cinderella run next year. That’s why these summer sessions are so important. Cardio and Chemistry built now will go a long way during the season.

I had to rib Ryghe a little bit about the cardio during the ten minutes games. What started as a rim-to-rim run to start the first game became top of the key jogs into long jump shots by the end of the third 10-minute game in a row. These games would wear anyone out but they also expose weaknesses to work on.

Cardio levels helped separate pros from prospects just as much as talent once the technique broke down. When muscle memory and fundamentals started going by the wayside, those who did more work usually win. That rule will almost always apply, on and off the court.

As for the summer runs, Lyons said, “This is a great opportunity for all of the players out here today. Coach Shaun and Coach Rory have done a great job in bringing the best talent in the city here, really the state of Louisiana. They marketed it well on social media. This is probably the greatest opportunity to play with hoopers in the city in a long time.” He added of the Pro-Am opportunity “It’s a big thing. It lets us build comradery before the season starts, get acclimated to each other. We build chemistry and work out some of the kinks now.”

No matter their record next season, these players are setting an example to inspire the next generation. Lyons and Johnson said these events that help players find opportunities on a bigger stage will help them level up their basketball careers. It also would inspire the next generation.

Lyons said, “Starting it now, it shows the young kids we’ve got stuff building for later. Basketball is becoming a big thing in Louisiana and for the culture it is great…What Coach Rory and Shaun have done for the city, It’s incredible.”

Ryghe Lyons basic scouting report:

Lyons will get the focus on scouting reports as a preseason SLC first-team honoree. A 22-game starter, Lyons is trying to stretch his shot out to the three-point line. His form is fine he just needs more strength and consistency over long stretches to be a game-changing focal point. Those skills would translate to the next level even in limited pro minutes. He needs to work on cardio so he can keep his legs in the shot and his body in the defensive paint (44 blocks/ 18 steals) for more than 18.1 minutes per game.

He is a smart defender, committing only 69 fouls last season (Noice!) and only fouling out twice. He could do more to get the opposition in foul trouble though. To my amateur scouting eye, Lyons could be more aggressive on offense by finishing through contact. His passing kick-out game works within the offense (38 assists) but Lyons needs to be a bully after grabbing aboard. He has almost as many rebounds (102) as he has shot attempts (111) but 45 of those boards came on the offensive end. He only shot 25 free throws all season though. Grab the rebound and get the ball back on the rim/backboard. Make the defense do something great.

In between, just make shots and hustle and Nicholls State should have a shot to win at the end no matter the competition.