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Bona's Relph coming up for air Former Mr. Basketball resurfaces after delays

Tyler Relph bent over in front of the St. Bonaventure bench, gasping for what little oxygen was available inside the Reilly Center.

Considering the 6-foot sophomore point guard was coming off a long layoff, it's easy to understand why he was sucking a little wind in a mid-January game against Temple.

"I was praying that I wasn't open for a shot because I don't know if it would have made it to the rim," said Relph, who missed the first eight games with an injury. "I think we went up and down the court non-stop about seven times, so I was pretty winded. I haven't played in a while, so it's going to take time getting back into shape."

Relph's conditioning is a work in progress, just like his young Bona career that has had its share of interruptions.

After transferring from West Virginia at the end of his freshman year in 2004, he was expected to be the Bonnies' starting point guard this season. But he was suspended from the team for three months last summer after being charged with driving while intoxicated in Allegany.

He was cleared of the DWI charge and had two other traffic violations dismissed, but a Village of Allegany judge found Relph guilty of the lesser charge of driving while ability impaired, revoking his driver's license for a year and fining him $500.

Bona also forced Relph to sit out the Bonnies' exhibition game and their season-opener against Robert Morris. His Bona debut was further delayed by surgery to remove bone spurs in his left ankle last October. He also was shut down by a stress fracture in his foot.

Relph's long-awaited debut appearance took place Dec. 21 at Marist. He is averaging a little more than 21 minutes per game through 10 games while sharing point guard duties with starter Terron Diggs, a junior college transfer.

"I'm happy to see him finally on the floor," Bona coach Anthony Solomon said of Relph. "Certainly, he or any of us are not happy with the injury that occurred. It slowed him down and he's just getting back into game shape and conditioning. It's going to take some time. But he's getting his opportunity now to make the transition into our program in live game action. All that can happen now is for him to continue to work at getting in better shape and getting into more of a rhythm in practice as well as games. But it's great to have him on the floor."

Other than a 13-point outing at Xavier two weeks ago and a 12-point game against Duquesne on Saturday, Relph has put up modest numbers (averaging 6.5 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game). He has not found his shooting touch, making only 29.9 percent from the field (20 of 67) and 30.2 percent on three-pointers (16 of 53).

But Relph said the more he plays the more comfortable and confident he'll get.

"My quickness and timing are not there yet, but that all comes in time and with practice," he said. "It's been a long time since basketball has been my only focus. I'm just happy to be playing again."

Relph hasn't enjoyed the game much since he was a hoops hotshot at McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester, where he was a two-time All-Greater Rochester Player of the Year and New York's Mr. Basketball as a senior in 2003.

Relph closed his career with 1,809 points while leading McQuaid to a state championship, two Section V Class A titles and the No. 2 national ranking in the USA Today poll during his final year.

He developed a reputation as a clutch shooter, as Niagara Falls found out when his three-pointer with 1:09 remaining put McQuaid ahead to stay in a 48-44 win over the Wolverines in the 2003 Far West Regionals.

Recruited by several colleges, Relph signed to play for John Beilein at West Virginia. Relph was given an opportunity to win the starting point guard job, but had a hard time adjusting to the Mountaineers' patient style of play.

He played in all 31 games, starting five, and averaged 5.0 points and 1.9 assists. But he wasn't happy with his role in Beilein's system. At the end of the season, Relph decided to leave West Virginia.

He chose to attend Bona, which recruited him heavily when he was in high school. Although he would have to sit out a year under the NCAA's transfer rule, he felt the Bonnies were the best fit for him.

"I was definitely disappointed things didn't work out at West Virginia," he said. "I loved my teammates and the locker room was a great environment. But I just felt like I needed to move on and find a better situation for my career.

"When I saw West Virginia making that run (to the NCAA Tournament's elite eight) last year I was like, 'Oh man. I could have been a part of that.' But I'm happy with my decision and I don't have any regrets."

Perhaps Bona briefly second-guessed its decision to sign Relph after his arrest last spring. Even Relph began to wonder if he would ever play for the Bonnies because of his legal and physical problems.

He's officially a Bonnie now, but there is more work to do. Not only is he trying to get his game together, he's also trying to repair an image that was damaged by his past mistakes.

"I'm sure people have said things about me, but that's all on me because of the mistakes I made," he said. "Those are things I have to live with. Every once in a while I walk around and wonder what people think of me. But you can't go through life like that. I've been through a lot the past two years, and I've become stronger from it. I've had a lot of support from my friends, family, coaching staff and my teammates. So things are moving in the right direction now."

In high school, everything came so easily for Relph. He was always in control. But college has presented greater challenges that will test his ability to handle adversity.

Now that Relph has moved beyond his past, Solomon is hopeful his future will be much brighter.

"Any time you have bumps in the road, it's a great opportunity to grow and learn from it," Solomon said. "I think he's on track to making the best out of those past experiences that can make him better and wiser as he moves on to later in life."

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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