My apologies for being a day late on this. Later today we'll have the profile on freshman A.J. Hammons. Yesterday, however, marked 21 days to the first men's basketball game of the season, and that means it was D.J. Byrd's day.
D.J. Byrd - Sr.
Hometown: Crawfordsville, IN (North Montgomery High School)
6'5", 228 pounds
2012 projection: Starter at Small Forward
The first time I saw D.J. Byrd play was years ago. N March 4, 2006 I was assigned to cover the Fountain Central sectional championship game. Byrd was a freshman for the Chargers that year and he was pretty impressive young player as north Montgomery won 66-62 in one of the more exciting game I have ever covered.
I was able to see Byrd play two more times over the course of his high school career. I saw him play the next year as North Montgomery won another game against a good Clinton Central team. When Byrd was a senior I covered his sectional championship against Western Boone.
It was that third game that impressed me the most about Byrd before his then impending Purdue career. Byrd was coming off of surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. He was less than two weeks out from surgery, but had one of those Little Things games that showed why he was such a highly regarded player. I think he had only 14 points or saw, all in a row during an important run, but he played within the limitations of his injury and influenced the game in others ways. He rebounded. He distributed the ball. He played defense. He protected the rim. He did everything to ensure his team would win, and they did, 63-44.
That's pretty much been his Purdue career to this point. He has scored 547 points and has been a strong supporting player for the seniors that have gone before him. Now it is his turn to be the senior leader and scorer. Last season he played out of position, mostly as necessity, but really came on as a scorer in Big Ten play. He had a then season high 14 points as Purdue won its Big Ten opener at Iowa. Even though he only averaged 8.9 points per game over the course of the season he was in double figures in 13 of the 19 conference games he played in.
One of the major roles he will have this year is as our top three-point shooter, much like Ryne Smith last year. Byrd was 65 of 151from long range last season, good for a career high 43%. Our next two best returning three-point shooters were Terone Johnson (22 of 71 for 31%) and Anthony Johnson (14 of 50 for 28%).
Naturally, three-point shooting will be one of his major roles this coming year. When Travis Carroll, who was 2of 6 for 33%, was our next highest returning three-point shooter in terms of average it is clear that Byrd's role from long range will be important. In fact, I think you'll see Purdue's offensive strategy change into a more low-post and attack the basket style of offense rather than settling for threes like we did when Ryno, E'Twaun, and Rob were on the floor.
Byrd's versatility can be very handy as well. At time last year he was forced to play the four, but he is really the perfect swing forward at the three position. He can stay there if we go big or he can be a devastating third guard in the back court. He can score at the basket or hit the three with regularity.
As the only remaining recruited player in his class Byrd is going to be a bridge as The Next Step slowly takes over. Dru Anthrop is the only other senior on this team and he was originally a walk-on. The other three players that were supposed to join D.J. on Senior night all left early via transfer (John Hart), switching sports (Patrick Bade), or got kicked off the team (Kelsey Barlow). This is Byrd's time to be a leader, however. He has proven in the past he is will be able to serve this team in any role necessary. Even last year, when he had a one-game suspension because of the bizarre Barlow incident, he showed he was ready to make amends by being seen on the court shooting after the game.
Byrd's not going to be the best player in the Big Ten, but he is going to be a Boilermaker. He's a hard-nosed, throwback player that will hustle and do all the Little Things needed to help his team win. Let's enjoy his last go-round as he embodies Boilermaker Basketball one more time.