I feel as if D.J. Byrd has been in my life for awhile. I remember covering him in a sectional championship game at North Montgomery. Even then, Matt Painter was already on him. I learned from the crowd he was already committed to Purdue, just up US 231 from North Montgomery High.
Fast Forward three years. Byrd is now a senior, and I am once again covering his sectional championship game. He had recently had surgery for a torn meniscus in his knee, so he was somewhat limited in what he could do. He only scored about 12 points in the game, all in a row, but he had the perfect Little Things game by rebounding, passing, and setting up his teammates in various ways. North Montgomery is a small 3A/large 2A school in Indiana, so a player of Byrd's caliber tends to stand out more against equal competition. Byrd really impressed me in this game because he was perfectly satisfied with being the decoy to get his other teammates the ball.
As Byrd enters his junior season with our Boilermakers we don't know what to expect from him. We know he is a hard-nosed player that fights through injuries, but he's not quite the second coming of Chris Kramer. He can be a capable scorer, bailing our ass out with a career high 16 on senior night to beat Illinois. He can shoot the three at a decent clip, so he is a weapon out there, but we often have had to play him at a forward spot.
Ultimately I think he morphs into a three for us this year. At 6'5" 225 he has the size to both bang for some rebounds and play on the perimeter. Byrd is a scorer of opportunity in our motion offense. We don't necessarily look for him like we did JJ and E`Twaun, but he knows he has the green light if he is open. Kind of like Travis Carroll with his 15-footer. D.J.'s numbers were pretty solid as a bench player last year: 5.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.0 apg. That tells me he's very comfortable as a rebounder and passer as well as a shooter within the offense.
If I had one complaint it would be his free throw shooting. He was only 63% from the line, up from 59.3%. I may be a perfectionist, but I want everyone shooting at least 75% from the line. They're free points, so there is no excuse to miss them.
I think Byrd becomes a starter this year at the three. It looks like we'll have Ryne Smith, Lewis Jackson, and of course Robbie Hummel at the 1,2, and 4. Sandi Marcius or Travis Carroll will be at the 5, but Byrd might be a situational/matchup starter with Terone Johnson depending on who we're playing. With starting comes responsibility. We have some points to make up from last year, and therefore I'd like to see D.J. chip an extra 2-3 points per game.