Terrell "Tu" Holloway, a senior preseason All-America at Xavier, and teammate Mark "Cheekz" Lyons, a junior on stardom's cusp, do not lack for self assurance. They will tell you they comprise the best backcourt in college basketball, and they might be right.
"We're just a lot tougher than everyone else,'' says Holloway.
"We're the best until someone proves us wrong,'' says Lyons.
They can be thought of as Tu Cheekz, a duo of backcourt brass that work together so masterfully that they can be confused as being a single entity.
"Hey, Cheekz, how's it going?'' someone might say to Holloway. To which Holloway, hoodie pulled down low over his face, forever in chill mode, might say, "Fine, man. Fine.''
"Tu, good luck tonight,'' another might say to Lyons. To which Lyons, bright face forever open for inspection, might say, "Thanks, no problem, we got this one, you coming?''
Tu Cheekz spends most of his time in the gym at Cintas Center, on Xavier's campus, trying to top himself. Because he's from New York, he never doubts he will do just that.
If he really were one player, instead of the pair that form Xavier's backcourt, he'd be Allen Marbury. Or maybe Stephon Iverson. T.C. can do it all. "I watch a lot of basketball,'' says Holloway. "That's really all I do. We're the best in college right now. Forget the major schools or what people are saying. Among our peers, we get a lot of respect.''
After 12th-ranked Xavier went to No. 20 Vanderbilt last Tuesday and rallied to win in front of close to 14,000 naysayers, at least one scribe likened Holloway and Lyons to Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, when each was at St. Joseph's.
But it was Tu Cheekz who won the game at Vandy. Lyons drove the lane and offered a gutsy, contorted layup with less than 10 seconds to play in regulation, to tie the game. Holloway iced it in overtime, launching an NBA trey that was pure and purely insouciant. "I'm just fearless,'' Holloway explains.
Together, Holloway and Lyons are averaging 35 points, seven assists and seven rebounds, while making 84 percent of their free throws and 45 percent of the 31 three-pointers they've attempted.
Just as notable, they've developed a chemistry and a camaraderie that will serve them well come March, when guard play is magnified. The rhythms and subtleties of great guard play don't just happen. Lyons and Holloway have been together at Xavier the last four years, the last three as at least part-time partners in the backcourt.
"We know what we're getting from each other, '' says Lyons. "We hold each other accountable. That [Vandy] game [last] Tuesday was a prime example. We shot a lot of bad shots, but we kept confidence and eventually we put our team on our backs.''
Holloway was a star last year, to the extent he had all but decided to enter the NBA Draft. That was until his 1-for-9, five-point performance in Xavier's first-round NCAA tournament loss to Marquette. "I couldn't go out that way,'' he says.
Holloway has started for the Musketeers all four years. Lyons' rise has been more gradual. Playing behind Holloway and former Xavier star Jordan Crawford, before last year Lyons played with an urgency to be noticed that often got him in trouble. He took bad shots, mostly.
"My recklessness outweighed my fearlessness'' is how Lyons describes it. "Reckless people do things out of the norm. Confident people do things they're used to doing and know they can do. I'm confident now. I know I'm not coming out of games.''
"He wanted to prove he was really good,'' says Holloway. "This year, if it's not me, it's him. I don't need to lead us in scoring. Mark Lyons is our shooting guard.''
It's not all love and mercy. Tu Cheekz does have differences of opinion.
"One-on-one, to 11, make-it take-it,'' someone suggests. "Who wins?''
"Definitely, I win. My fadeaway is pretty mean,'' says Holloway.
"No one wins,'' says Lyons.
"It wouldn't end. When you come from New York, you just don't let the other person win. You foul 'em, do whatever you can to keep him from scoring. He's gonna have to hit a jumper from half court or something,'' Lyons says.
H-O-R-S-E, then. Who wins at H-O-R-S-E?
"Me, if there's no dunking. I can't dunk the way he can. He'd be jumping over somebody,'' Holloway allows.
Lyons agrees, readily. "He can't jump over a credit card. I'd bring the props and it'd be all over.''
"Me,'' Holloway says. Of course.
"We both get fly,'' says Lyons. "I'll give it to him, but I definitely know how to dress pretty well. He takes pride in it. I'm just naturally better dressed. Plus, I'm better looking.''
One thing they do agree on: Holloway can't dance. "He never moves,'' Lyons offers. "I can move on the court,'' counters Holloway. "When it comes to the dance floor, I have no rhythm. Doesn't make sense.''
A few minutes later, Tu relents on all points. It's very unlike him. Cheekz "is probably a better dresser than me, and he'd probably beat me one-on-one. I had to think about that.''
Other points require less pondering.
"We're both natural leaders,'' says Holloway.
"He's a killer, a warrior,'' says Lyons. "We're the best guard tandem in the country. If we see something different, we'll admit it. We watch a lot of basketball.''
Xavier has made its name with big players. Post players such as David West and Tyrone Hill, small forwards such as James Posey. But Jordan Crawford, a 6-4 shooting guard, was a No. 1 NBA Draft pick two years ago. Holloway figures to be a No. 1 next spring.
For now, Tu Cheekz is the best guard in the college game. Just ask him. If you can tell him apart.