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Jan. 8, 1998

Above the Rim

lynch photo
Brian Lynch.

by Kevin Patrick Fischer

There is a famous saying that states, "If at first you don't succeed... try, try again." As Brian Lynch was growing up, perhaps these words echoed in the mind of this 6-6 sophomore. Lynch, who began playing basketball in his backyard as a small child, continued to develop his skills and now finds himself as a swing man for the Villanova Wildcats, playing in one of the most competitive conferences in the land.

Lynch was exposed to the game of basketball at a very early age. Since Lynch's two older brothers were avid basketball players, their father decided to build a basketball court in the backyard of their Belmar, N.J. home.

"I must have been around three (years old) when I started playing," Lynch recalled. "I would sit and watch my brothers play. When they were done, then I would go outside and play. I'd throw the ball up just trying to hit the rim."

Lynch continued to play basketball growing up, and saw his skills quickly develope. After all, basketball was the most important game in the Lynch household, leading to some heated match-ups in the backyard.

"I started off playing just trying to be like my brothers, but as time went on, I wanted to get better than they were. I kept on playing basketball because I loved to play. It wasn't until I grew older, though that things started to happen for me."

Eventually Lynch found himself at Christian Brothers Academy playing high school basketball. Lynch proved that he was a talented ball player on the court, and just as talented a student off it. In his four years at Christian Brothers, he helped his team capture three Shore Conference Championships and a state title in his junior year. After completing his sophomore year, Lynch joined the Jersey Warriors in an AAU summer league under coach Tony Sagona, a team which he played with until graduating.

"Playing AAU definitely helped me showcase my talents. Coach (Sagona) really helped me develop and fine tune my skills. He was more like a friend than a coach to me. Playing for him helped me to realize that I wanted to stick to playing (basketball)."

Lynch's talent drew the attention of some of the top coaches in the country. In addition to preparing Lynch for the college level , Sagona and Christian Brothers coach Ed Wicelinski, helped to ease the recruitment process. After narrowing his decision between Duke, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, and Villanova, the right choice appeared to be clear. Lynch was headed to Wildcat Country.

"At first the whole recruiting process was hard, but my coaches helped me get through it. After looking at all the different possibilities, it became obvious that Villanova was the right choice. The campus is relatively close to home, but more importantly, the school has a good (basketball) program and has a prestigious reputation academically."

Since arriving on the Main Line, Lynch has adjusted to the college life very well, both on the court and in the classroom. Lynch quickly realized that life as a college basketball player, although centered on what you do on the court, was more than just practices and games.

"The whole college basketball scene is a lot of fun, flying places and staying in hotels," Lynch said. "It is totally different from high school where we would take bus rides down the road to play. At the same time I am learning how to manage my academics with both basketball and social life."

Despite having to adapt to his new environment at Villanova, Lynch has not lost his confidence in his abilities on the court. Part of the reason for the easy adjustment for Lynch is that life has been eased by the close togetherness of the team, coaches and players alike.

"Coach Lappas is an intense coach but he is an intense with a purpose. He is a great motivator and coach prepares us for each game. The coaching staff and the players are like one big family. On the court John (Celestand) is our leader, but Zeffy (Penn) is our team leader. We stick together."

During his freshman season, despite a mid-season injury, Lynch averaged 3.8 points per game and 1.6 rebounds per game, in only 12.9 minutes. He established himself, not only as a three point threat, but also as a player who can penetrate and score off the dribble. Lynch had three double-digit scoring performaces last season, scoring his career-high of 11 points on the road against Providence. Despite the fact that he was a rookie, he shot the ball like a poised veteran. Lynch finished the season fifth on the team in thee-pointers with 16.

Dealing with the pressure of playing in the Big East Conference before near capacity crowds, being away from home, as well as maintaining the high academic standards of Villanova University, may seem overwhelming. Lynch, however, has not been rattled by the pressure, especially entering the 1997-98 season.

"Pressure? No not really. I have never let the pressure bother me, especially this year. I know I have to go out their and do what I can. After losing most of our starters (Chuck Kornegay, Jason Lawson, Tim Thomas, Alvin Williams) we have a new identity. The spotlight isn't there any more. We just have to go out and play."

So far this season, Lynch has picked up right where he left off last season. Slowed early on by injury, he has come on to give the Wildcats an important lift off the bench. Through the first 11 games, Lynch came off the bench to score over five points a game, while shooting over fifty percent both from the field and from the three-point stripe.

It was against Boston College on Jan. 6, however, when Lynch had his breakthrough game of the season. With the Wildcats down early, he was brought off the bench to give the team a much needed spark. Lynch did just that, scoring 13 points and grabbing four rebounds in 20 minutes. Going into overtime with the game tied at 57, he saved his best for last hitting a three-pointer to give Villanova the lead the start overtime, and hitting four free throws down the stretch to seal a 68-65 victory.

The difference between winning and losing and accomplishing the goals one sets out to conquer is often something as simple as just never giving up. If Lynch gave up on basketball when he was a younger, when he stood in his backyard trying to hit the rim, he would not be where he is today. Instead Lynch continued to try and try again improving his skills, and now finds himself playing above the rim for the Wildcats.