In his junior season, Southeast's Tyler Stone has matured on and off the basketball court

Thursday, December 27, 2012
Tyler Stone leads Southeast Missouri State in scoring (17.4 points per game) this season. (LAURA SIMON)

The cutline for the photo of Tyler Stone has been corrected.

Southeast Missouri State men's basketball coach Dickey Nutt points to Tyler Stone as a true success story.

It wasn't always that way -- far from it -- which makes Nutt even prouder of what the Redhawks' standout junior forward has been able to accomplish so far in his collegiate career.

"Tyler knows I don't tell his story to embarrass him. I tell it because it's a success story, because it's a good example for young players," Nutt said. "I've never been prouder of a young man."

Stone's statistics would be enough to make most coaches beam as he has continued to improve after earning second-team all-Ohio Valley Conference honors last season.

The 6-foot-8, 230-pound native of Memphis, Tenn., is the OVC's third-leading scorer and rebounder with averages of 17.4 points and 8.6 boards per game. He ranks sixth with 1.4 blocks and second in minutes played at 35.2.

Stone, perhaps most impressively, is also second in free-throw shooting at 86.7 percent, up from 62 percent a year ago.

His two foul shots with 28 seconds left Saturday provided the winning margin as the Redhawks (8-6) prevailed 66-65 at Missouri-Kansas City, giving them their most nonconference victories since the 2000-01 season.

"I feel pretty good about my game, but I feel pretty good about my team," Stone said. "We've come a long way, but we have still a long way to go."

Nutt emphasizes that Stone has certainly come a long way -- on and off the court -- since he arrived at Southeast in 2010.

Missouri transfer

Nutt, after being hired at Southeast in 2009, got a late start in the recruitment of Stone, who was already familiar with Nutt's assistant, Jamie Rosser, a Memphis native and a former high school coach in the city.

"I came pretty close," Stone said of attending Southeast right away. "I talked to them coming out of high school. I knew coach Rosser. He was one of my mentors."

But Stone ultimately signed with the University of Missouri, then coached by Mike Anderson.

Stone saw very limited action for the Tigers as a freshman, scoring 22 points in 12 games, before leaving the program following the 2009-10 season.

"It just didn't work out, but coming here was a good option," Stone said. "It was the perfect thing. Coach Nutt told me he wanted me to help rebuild this program."

Nutt was glad to get Stone on the rebound but soon found out that habits would have to be broken.

"When he came from Missouri, he came with reservations," Nutt said. "When I called Mike Anderson and his staff, they were very careful about what they said ... but they said he couldn't shoot, he had a hard time playing hard, academically he would not perform in the classroom.

"I sat down with him and told him this is how we do things. We do it the right way on and off the court."

Rough early times

Stone had to sit out his first season at Southeast, in 2010-11, under NCAA transfer rules. He was allowed to practice with the team -- although it looked for a while like that might not last long.

"He was thrown out of two practices within a month. Just a lack of effort. ... He could not control himself. Cocky, a bad attitude," Nutt said. "After the third time, we told him to pack his stuff. We were going to send him back to Memphis.

"He came back to us with tears in his eyes. He begged us to give him a second chance. We told him we'd have to think about it."

Nutt said he and his staff ultimately decided Stone did deserve another chance.

And this time something apparently clicked, because Nutt said Stone began to turn over a new leaf.

"I don't know if I've ever been more satisfied with seeing a young man turn his life around, and it starts in the classroom," Nutt said.

Stone is the first to admit he needed an attitude adjustment. He thanks Nutt for helping show him the way.

"I know I've matured a lot. When I was at Missouri I was still a kid, still young. I would miss a class or something like that," Stone said. "Practice. ... I didn't understand you had to be full speed all the time. I've had time to mature, just getting my life right.

"Me and coach Nutt, we just bumped heads. He's been pushing me ever since I got here. It's helped me a lot. He's showed me the things I have to do, how to be a leader to the younger guys."

Big rookie season

Stone had a major impact for the Redhawks during his first season at the school last year, making the OVC's all-newcomer squad while earning second-team all-league honors after leading Southeast with averages of 14.7 points and 7.3 rebounds.

This year, Stone has taken his overall game up several notches. Nutt credits hard work and discipline.

"He does things the right way. The way he practices, the way he goes to class," Nutt said. "He has really come into his own. He's hit another level on and off the court."

Nutt and Stone both point to the trip Stone took to Brazil over the summer with Sports Reach Ministry for aiding his maturity.

Stone averaged 21.2 points and 12.4 rebounds in five exhibition games as his squad won a gold medal -- but his experience off the court was just as rewarding. He said going into poverty-stricken areas to conduct camps and clinics helped him appreciate the opportunity he has.

"It was fun, playing with some good guys. It helped me grow up a lot," he said. "It helped me see what we have, not take anything for granted. It was a good thing to do."

OVC play ahead

Stone likes the direction he and the Redhawks are headed as they begin OVC play Saturday with a noon home game against Tennessee-Martin.

The Redhawks have improved each year since Nutt took over one of the nation's worst programs that not only was coming off a 3-27, winless-OVC season but was saddled with NCAA probation.

"I'm proud of our team and our coaches. We've come a long way," Stone said. "I know we've gotten a lot better since that first game at Kansas this year. Guys are just starting to jell. We're going into this conference full force."

Stone, who is majoring in general studies with a minor in mass communication, should have an opportunity to play professional basketball after his senior season next year. He said he'll relish the chance, but that's in the back of his mind for now.

"I would love to play pro ball. Who wouldn't?" Stone said. "But right now I want to focus on helping my team win the OVC championship and getting my degree. Where I come from a lot of people don't get degrees."

Nutt is certain Stone will be successful no matter what direction his life takes. He's already turned his life around since coming to Southeast.

"That's the reason I love Tyler Stone," Nutt said. "Is he perfect? No, but he's improving every day. I have really enjoyed coaching him."

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