By George Scione
To know the story of Tyler Livingston, is to realize that dreams do come true.
It is as if a Walt Disney Productions’ script fell onto Pat Duquette’s lap, and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell men’s basketball head coach knew from Page 1 that he had lucked into an award-winning screenplay.
Small town boy, who grew up playing basketball but never thought he was good enough to go beyond high school, attends college focused only on his schoolwork. The civil engineering major turns some heads in shoot-arounds and playing pickup games in the gym. A chance meeting on campus puts coach and player face to face and a Division I walk-on star is born.
“I think it’s incredibly rare in this day and age of Division I college basketball to find somebody who flew that far underneath the radar,” said Duquette, who was associate head coach at Northeastern University for three years before taking over UMass Lowell’s program this summer, and assistant head coach at Boston College for 13 years prior. “He was virtually unnoticed, and he went from completely unnoticed to starting power forward on a Division I basketball team.”
Such is the tale of Hudson’s Livingston, who starred as a center/power forward on the basketball court for Alvirne High School over a three-year span. An All-State selection all three seasons, Livingston was a key factor in the Broncos semifinal run of 2011. A captain as a junior and senior, the high honor roll student, also was a four-year member of the golf team.
“I came here and didn’t plan to be on the basketball team,” he said. “It would just be a bonus if I made it. I went in with a good attitude and everything worked out.”
Basketball is his passion. The possibility of giving that up ate away at Livingston from time to time. Unfortunately nothing more than Division III schools like Rochester University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute were offering a shot at basketball out of high school. UMass Lowell’s location, education and tuition proved more appealing.
Since finding his way across the border, Livingston’s collegiate experience has become the stuff of legends.
“All the time you’ve got to think about it,” he said. “Last year at Alvirne, we weren’t playing great competition. New Hampshire basketball is pretty good, but compared to other states, it’s not that great. So the fact that I’m here now, it’s like night and day. Just what was happening last year, I never thought that I could come here and play.”
ACT I: Proving he belongs
The original thought of playing for the River Hawks came out during his summer job at the Vesper Country Club in Tyngsborough, Mass.
A UMass Lowell administrator, who is a member at the club, struck up a friendly chat with Livingston, who jokingly asked if there was any chance he could play basketball at the college. A link to Livingston’s YouTube video from high school was passed on and one day later, the 6-foot-5, 200-pound student appeared on a path to reattaching athlete with a hyphen to his title.
“The next day I got an email from Athletic Director Dana Skinner,” Livingston said. “He gave me coach’s number and I decided to call him.” Duquette informed the Alvirne graduate that he wasn’t sure how the roster was going to look for the upcoming season, UMass Lowell’s first in Division I as a member of the America East Conference, and that he should contact him back in the fall.
Although Livingston began to think of the possibilities, the nerves were getting to him.
“I waited out the summer,” Livingston said. “I was on and off all summer, and by the end of the summer, I really didn’t think I was going to play because I really didn’t think I was good enough.”
A chance meeting on campus with Duquette and a little prodding from redshirt-freshman guard Jahad Thomas, who is out for the season with a torn ACL, was enough to get Livingston in the gym with the basketball team.
He was already shooting around and playing pickup games that Thomas and other River Hawks caught glimpses of. Impressed, Thomas stressed Duquette’s desire for Livingston to attend team scrimmages.
“I was definitely nervous because I knew I had a good opportunity and didn’t want to blow it,” he said about scrimmaging with the basketball team. “At the same point, it’s just basketball and you have to go out and play, and whatever happened, happened.”
From the first time he stepped on the court with his current teammates, the Granite State product belonged.
“It didn’t take long for everybody to recognize that he could really play,” Duquette said. “It doesn’t take long. If you’re a coach in this business, you’ve got a trained eye for those things. It only took a few minutes after watching him play. To me, it was his lack of fear, and his confidence, and his basketball IQ. Those were the things that stood out in my mind and made me think ‘you know, this could be really special.’”
ACT II: Finding his role
Walking on was just the beginning for Livingston. Once he had that locked up it was a matter of finding his role and fighting for playing time.
Even after being old he would make the roster, he took the coaching staff’s words to heart.
“They told me flat out that nothing was going to be given to me,” Livingston said. “Just because I made the roster didn’t mean I would make it onto the floor during games. That was up to me and how much work I wanted to put in.
“I was surprised to make the team. Forget playing. I always thought I would be on the bench the entire season.”
Instead, Livingston has played in all 12 games, starting in 10 of those, as a Stretch Four – a player who plays the power forward position, but has skills outside those normally associated with the position.
While the majority of power forwards play close to the basket, using size and strength to provide interior defense, rebounding and scoring. A Stretch Four is of power forward size and usually guards other power forwards defensively. Offensively, they have superior ball-handling, passing and shooting skills that allow them to stretch the opponent’s defense, creating more driving lanes for guards and more room in the post for centers.
“That is the advantage that he presents for us offensively,” Duquette said. “He’s able to stretch the defense and pull them away from the floor – and make baskets. That’s a huge asset to have.”
Averaging eight points and 3.9 rebounds in 29.8 minutes per game, it appears to be working well for the River Hawks as well despite their 1-11 record, which include losses at the University of Michigan (69-42) and the University of Cincinnati (79-49).
“It’s the perfect fit for me. The strongest part of my game is shooting,” said Livingston, who is first on the team in 3-point field goal percentage at .364. “I’m not great in other areas. I definitely need to improve, so if I can utilize my shot it really helps. The offense I’m in really sets me up for success.”
ACT III: Seizing the moment
UMass Lowell junior guard Chad Holley was one of those River Hawks who saw the potential early on.
“He’s a laidback, quiet guy,” Holley said. “We saw he had talent when he came to play with us in pick-up. He came out to practice, was a little nervous, but he got comfortable and showed he could shoot the ball.
“It’s kind of crazy, but then again he works hard. Sometimes you just get those diamonds in the rough that somebody overlooked or coaches overlooked, and has talent that nobody has seen. We’re thankful that he’s here and helping us. He definitely helps us a lot, and creates lots of space on the floor.”
It showed during his 32 minutes of work off the bench in the season-opening, nationally televised game at Michigan. Livingston was 4 for 11 from the floor with two 3-pointers in a 10-point, nine-rebound effort against the Wolverines, who were a Final Four competitor last season and finished as runner-up after losing to Louisville in the NCAA Final.
“The Michigan game was unreal – packed house,” he said. “The whole being in Michigan was just crazy. And we were tied with them at halftime. I couldn’t believe it. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of.”
After five points and three rebounds in 36 minutes of action in a 91-65 loss to Boston University, Livingston earned his spot in the starting lineup.
He didn’t disappoint, scoring 12 points (4 for 7, three 3-pointers) and pulling down four rebounds in 38 minutes of play during a 77-59 loss at Dartmouth.
He has yet to leave the starting line-up.
“It’s weird sometimes when you look at the bigger picture of it all,” Livingston said. “At this point, it just feels normal, but in the beginning, it definitely – like when you see yourself on ESPN and stuff like that – was strange because I never thought that would happen. It’s been cool.
“It’s what I’ve always wanted, so I’m enjoying it right now.”
His first start was followed up with a season-high 13 points versus Brown University (87-76, loss), seven against the University of Rhode Island (79-68, loss), nine at Cincinnati and in UMass Lowell’s only win of the season so far against visiting Mount Ida College (73-45).
It was then games of two versus St. Bonaventure (67-58, loss), five at New Jersey Institute of Technology (55-44, loss), six at Columbia University (78-39, loss) and five in the River Hawks first conference game against the University of Vermont (62-48, loss). None of those games saw him dip below 22 minutes of playing time.
ACT IV: Staying focused
For so much to be happening all at once, Livingston is staying grounded. His classroom work and basketball are his main focus.
In class it’s all business. Likewise on the court.
“You’ve just got to be on top of your game,” Livingston said. “You can’t be thinking about everything going on outside of what you can control for yourself. Everything in the stands and stuff like that, if you get caught up in that, there’s no way you’ll be able to play. Everything between the lines, you just have to focus on that.”
The slight dip in scoring between the Bonnies and Catamounts gave way to another 13-point effort in the final game before winter break, as UMass Lowell fell, 95-77, to Duquesne University at the Tsongas Center.
Livingston was back to form with three 3-pointers in 28 minutes of work.
“I just wanted to make the most of it,” he said after a practice just four days before the Duquesne game. “ I knew that we were going to become a D-I school this year, so it would be a rebuilding year. I knew I would have a chance because of that. I didn’t know it was going to be like this, so it’s been good.”
ACT V: Moving forward
His high school teammates still keep in touch. They’re cheering him on – attending games, sending post-game texts and offering encouragement at every turn.
Only a freshman, they know it’s only the beginning for their former Broncos teammate at UMass Lowell. So does he.
“I just try to put a lot of work in,” Livingston said. “I don’t want to settle for what’s happening now. I have a good opportunity so I want to make the most of it and whatever happens, happens.”
Now a Division I program, the River Hawks have their eyes on playing every home game at the Tsongas Center. As the program expands, Livingston is now expected to be a piece of the foundation.
“I think Tyler is a great piece of it,” Duquette said. “He’s only going to get better as we move forward. The only areas that he really needs to work on are his strength and size, and he can always get bigger and stronger. He’s got the IQ, and the skill, and the toughness which is really tough to come by.”
Bulking up is a top priority for Livingston.
“Definitely, that’s definitely the biggest thing for me,” he said. “I’m like a little kid out there compared to some of the guys we’ve played against. It’s been tough.”
However, posting up against a bigger opponent isn’t the toughest thing he’s faced this season. That still has to be grinding out a way onto the roster.
How he accomplished the feat is still shocking, and somewhat inspiring to others. It’s not the first time Holley has seen it happen, but it’s still an amazing situation that he can’t get enough of.
“My freshman year at Mount St. Mary’s in Maryland, before I transferred over here, there was a walk-on that was pretty good,” Holley said. “He had a good year, played and contributed.
“It’s rare. It’s not often you see it. So to come here and for Tyler to come help us is good. I’m happy for him and happy for us.”
For Duquette, this is a first.
“It’s very unusual that a walk-on even makes the team, but for a kid that was unknown to come in and be starting by midseason – in my 20 years of coaching – I’ve never, ever experienced that.
“It’s ironic. Because that is kind of our recruiting motto as a staff here is to go after the hidden gems and the guys who were so undiscovered. It’s ironic that when we show up here on campus this fall, we got the most undiscovered talent that we have in Tyler.”
This story continues at 1 p.m. Sunday (ESPNNH 900-AM), when America East foe from the University of Maryland Baltimore County visits the Costello Athletic Center in Lowell, Mass.
There Tyler Livingston will be, crafting the next Act in his fairy-tale script.