by Jack Rieger
Nevada basketball is a group full of exuberant personalities. At the top there’s coach Eric Musselman, who’s constantly yelling with enthusiasm during practice, games or news conferences. Next there’s Cameron Oliver, who flaunts his Hollywood smile after every one of his showtime dunks. And there’s even bench contributor Kaileb Rodriguez, who rallies the student section before every game by clapping and pointing toward the crowd during pregame warm ups.
Then there’s Tyron Criswell — a quiet, well-mannered senior shooting guard — who chooses to display his personality through his relentless style of play on the court.
Criswell was raised with his older brother in Omaha, Nebraska, by parents Tegory and Katherine. According to his mother, Tyron was a quiet kid growing up.
“He was a shy kid until he went to high school,” said Criswell’s mother, Katherine. “He was bullied a little bit, but his brother wouldn’t let him get bullied too much because they went to the same school. He was a very good kid in school, no problems at all out of him.”
Criswell claims he also had to work harder than most of his peers in school in order to get similar grades.
“I was an OK student,” said Criswell. “I had to work hard at everything. I’m not an A or a B student. I would say B or C and an occasional A. It was tough for me growing up because I’m not the greatest at math or those tough subjects, so it was tough.”
Although Criswell has fond memories of his childhood in Omaha, he also remembers how hard his parents had to work just to put food on the table for him and his brother.
“We definitely struggled a little bit growing up,” Criswell said. “My parents were struggling finding jobs. My dad worked. My mom didn’t at the time, so it was tough only getting money from one parent. Eventually my mom found a job, but I was pretty much grown-up by that time.”
Criswell’s father, Tegory, worked relentlessly at an Automax factory in Omaha to support his wife and two children. He was also Criswell’s biggest basketball fan and would go to all of his games, whether home or away.
During his junior year of high school, Criswell was on a basketball trip in Chicago with his Amateur Athletic Union team. A couple of hours before the game, Criswell talked to his father on the phone and told him he would call after the game ended to talk about how he played. By the time the game finished, it was late at night and Criswell decided he would wait until morning to call his father. That evening, Criswell’s father had a stroke and eventually passed away.
“That’s one thing he really, really regrets because his dad was incoherent when he got back home,” Katherine said. “He and his brother really helped me through this. Every time I got down Tyron would be there for me. I only once saw him cry and that was at his dad’s funeral. Every time I would cry he would just hold me and tell me, ‘Mom, it’s going to be all right.’ That’s when he really grew up.”
Criswell said that his father was the greatest influence in his life.
“He taught me a lot,” Criswell said. “Especially growing up through adversity and stuff. He pretty much told me to work hard at everything and if I want it, I’ll be able to get it and achieve whatever I want. He gave me the drive that I have today to work hard.”
Katherine remembers her husband for all the time he spent supporting Tyron.
“Oh, [Tegory] was awesome,” Katherine said. “He was a family man. He really took care of us the best he could. [Tyron’s] dad cheered him on when he played football and when he played basketball. His dad was there for him more than I really was. I was the homemaker. That’s why he really misses his dad because his dad was so into his life, like a dad should be.”
After his father died, Criswell’s life changed drastically. He became the man of the house and was responsible for taking care of his mother.
“[My life] changed quite a bit,” Criswell said. “I had to be strong for my mom, especially because my brother was out of the house at the time. It was just me and my mom at the time so of course she was grieving hard, so I just tried to be strong for her.”
Not only did Criswell take care of his mother, but he also became more motivated as a basketball player and a student following his father’s death.
“And honestly when that happened, that made me a lot hungrier in my sport,” Criswell said. “It made me make goals for myself. I told myself I’m going to graduate high school and I’m going to graduate college and I’m on track to do that now. I’m just doing these goals for him, honestly.”
During his senior year of high school, Criswell averaged 17 points and five rebounds at Omaha Benson. Following high school, Criswell didn’t receive a single offer from a Division I school and decided to attend Central Community College in Columbus, Nebraska, for two years. At Central, Tyron averaged 20 points, seven rebounds and three steals, and he was named the NCJAA Division II player of the year, but he hasn’t forgotten all the schools and coaches that looked past him.
“I feel like I’m overlooked a lot,” said Criswell. “I feel like I was overlooked my whole life, honestly. Out of high school I didn’t have any looks from colleges. I went the junior college route, and then after junior college, colleges started finding me. I just feel like I was overlooked a lot of my life.”
One of the schools that finally extended Criswell an offer before last season was Nevada, and this season he has become a pivotal member of the team, averaging 11 points and six rebounds while shooting 50 percent. Coach Musselman is a big fan of Criswell’s attitude and versatility.
“He’s just a junkyard dog,” Musselman said. “Tell him to guard the point guard one night and he guards the point guard. Tell him to guard the center another night. He’s just willing to do whatever and he never says boo.”
When asked what his father would say if he could see him now, Criswell answered without hesitation.
“He would be very proud of me,” Criswell said with a smile. “I would be the only one that graduated college in our family. He would be very proud of me to see where I’m at today.”
Katherine also couldn’t be more proud of her son.
“Tyron is a damn good man today,” Katherine said. “I’m so proud of how he has handled it all. Even when his grandfather died and we went to his funeral, Tyron made me laugh. I was like, ‘Where is this coming from?’ He made me laugh because he didn’t want me to cry. Just like he is all over the court, he’s all over my life.”
Jack Rieger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JackRieger.