OXFORD, Pa. -- Reality came suddenly for Kyle "Face" Myrick.
It arrived with the clasp of wrought iron bars and the clinking of locks snapping into place. Moments later, a prison guard asked the former high school hoops star to turn around and put his hands behind his back. Click. On went the handcuffs.
It was then that Myrick's mind began to race. Everything he was working for -- college, a career, a house, a family, life beyond the drug-infested streets of southwest Philadelphia -- was gone. More than anything else, Myrick, for the first time in his life, would be deprived of his one true love -- playing basketball. Those first couple of nights in prison, Myrick cried himself to sleep.
Myrick reflects back on the 23 months he spent in prison for assault as if they were light years away. Today, the 6-foot senior point guard from Lincoln University is the nation's leading scorer in Division III, averaging 30.3 points a game for the Lions, who are 15-4 playing an independent schedule.
Myrick has NBA teams inquiring about him -- and even some NBA players who think he can one day play in the league.
The 185-pound, 26-year-old now finds himself at the tiny bucolic campus at the traditional African-American college located in Chester County, a 50-minute car ride south of Philadelphia, after a maze loaded with brief stops, punctuated by his prison stay that ended on Dec. 8, 2002.
"I've seen guys get shanked before. I tell the young guys I play with here at Lincoln that this is the easy life," said Myrick, who led Lincoln to its first-ever national ranking earlier this season. "They think studying after basketball practice is hard; try being in jail, because nothing comes easy, there is nothing granted. I learned a whole lot from the experience. Everything happens for a reason and whatever reason it was, I'm a better person and I'm a leader. Being in prison taught me that there are more meaningful things in life. I just wanted to prove that I wasn't a bad person. I wanted a second chance to play ball the way I know how to play. Put me in the hardwood against anyone and I could hold my own. But there was a time when I thought that my life was over."
Myrick once was a standout shooting guard at Overbrook High, Wilt
Chamberlain's alma mater. Myrick graduated in 1998 after averaging 20 points
a game his senior year, earning all-Philadelphia Public League honors and
being awarded the MVP of the Public League All-Star Game in 1997.
His play garnered some nice looks from local midlevel Division I schools like Drexel and La Salle, but grades and a lack of academic discipline sent "Face" (a nickname his mother Shiela bestowed upon him for his assorted facial expressions as a child) across the country to Lassen Junior College in Northern California.
Myrick stayed there for a season before returning home. He had attracted the attention of schools like UNLV, LSU,
Nevada and Hawaii, but home posed larger problems. Myrick still associated with some of his boyhood friends, a number of whom were street hustlers or still living the thug life. One night, Myrick was with a group that locked horns with another on the mean streets of North Philly.
There was no gunfire, but punches were exchanged and someone was hospitalized. Someone had to be charged. Myrick was one of them, receiving 11½ to 23 months, beginning his stint in Philadelphia County jail and then being transferred to a Delaware County correctional facility, ironically not that far from where Myrick now plays.
"I was mixed up in what went on that night," Myrick admitted. "I was throwing punches. I had to defend myself, but they put us all together. The only thing that I kept thinking about was getting another chance. I'm a good person and I wanted another chance. The first days in there, you don't get no sleep. The food is horrible. I cried my first couple nights in there; you can hear other guys crying, too. They won't admit [it], because they have to be hard, but everyone cries in prison.
"I want to keep it real. You're stressed the whole time in there. Some days you don't eat anything; you don't feel like doing anything. I kept telling myself that I messed up this time. I screwed up and everyone would look at me like an outcast, that no one would want me. My mother kept me above water. I had my family to keep me going. They kept hope for me. I don't know how things would have turned out if it wasn't for my family. They believed me when a lot of people didn't. What hurt the most was watching my mother cry every time she would come up and visit. I felt like I let her down."
His release date of Dec. 8, 2002 is now what Myrick calls "the greatest day of my life."
"I told [my mother] when I came home that I was never going to back [to prison] again," he said.
Instead, Face went back to trying to rekindle his hoop cred. He hit every major summer league, playing against every local Philadelphia pro from Aaron McKie to Cuttino Mobley to Philadelphia 76ers star guard Allen Iverson.
That's when Eugene Lett re-entered Myrick's life. Lett, a Philadelphia playground and AAU basketball fixture, has known Myrick since he was 10. Lett helped Myrick get into Riverside (Calif.) Junior College in 2003, where he received a healthy dose of attention. But once schools saw Myrick's transcript and his history, they begged off.
When Lett landed at Lincoln as an assistant, he brought Myrick to the attention of head coach Garfield Yuille, another strongly connected former Philly AAU coach. Yuille acted, though with some trepidation.
"When I got the job at Lincoln, I wanted to get him in here," Yuille said. "I'm not going to kid you. There were a lot of people that told me to back off the kid. They warned me that it was my first year and that he was bad news. It was my first year and we decided to take a chance. I'll admit that I was nervous at first. But I've worked with troubled youth. I've dealt with things like that my whole life. He got major Division I offers out of Riverside, but once they saw where he came from, they backed off."
Yuille didn't. The two had some rocky moments last year: Myrick learning to deal with Yuille's discipline and Yuille
dealing with Myrick's occasional tirades. But both have learned about what the other demands, and together they have made history at the tiny college.
Myrick has developed a midrange game to go along with his slashing moves to the basket. He's added another dimension with his passing.
"Face has the skills and the ability to play in the NBA," said McKie, a 12-year NBA vet now with the Los Angeles Lakers. "The one thing that separates him is not only his work ethic, but his heart. He wants to play the game because he has a feel for it. He has the skills to play. He's a great penetrating guard and he's a player who can play in that midrange level, one of them 15-, 16-feet-and-in kind of guys. He's great at getting to the basket. He reminds me of a scoring point who plays defense. He kind of reminds me of an Andre Miller-kind of point guard."
Regardless of his next steps in hoops, Myrick is a long way from crying himself to sleep in prison, wondering what tomorrow would bring.
"Face sees a future, where there was no future for him before," Yuille said. "He's on a good path."
Joseph Santoliquito is the managing editor of Ring Magazine and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.