Starting today and leading up to MSU’s season opener on Nov. 8 against McNeese State, I’ll break down every scholarship player on the Spartans’ roster. These should serve as your primer for the team’s two exhibition games against Division II opponents – on Tuesday with Grand Valley State and next Monday against Indiana (Pa.).
Let’s start the numerical rundown with No. 0 Russell Byrd, a captain a year ago and and enigma with fans due to a number of health issues over his first three seasons.
PLAYER: Russell Byrd
POSITION: Shooting guard
CLASS: Redshirt junior
HOMETOWN/HIGH SCHOOL: Fort Wayne, Ind./Blackhawk Christian HS
HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 6-7, 205
2012-13 TOTALS: 27 games (0 starts), 1.6 ppg, 0.7 rpg, 0.4 apg, 7.5 mpg, 27.5 pct. FG, 17.1 3-point pct., 50.0 pct. FT
STRENGTH: Outside shooting
ROLE: 3-point specialist off the bench
TAKING FLIGHT AGAIN: Byrd was named captain before his redshirt sophomore season, but he failed to provide the type of outside shooting for which coach Tom Izzo recruited him before three foot surgeries cost him a lot of his lift and mobility.
Izzo continually reaffirmed his belief in Byrdâ€™s shooting ability over last season and the summer. The question is how much of a toll those physical ailments have taken on his psyche as well, as Izzo said the recovery process has â€śboth mentally and physically been draining.â€ť
â€śIf we can get him shooting the ball like the kid I recruited, god, that would really help this team because you always need to have guys that can knock down shots,â€ť Izzo said. â€śIf he starts popping them down and gets his confidence back, then I think that’ll be the other big part of his improvement. Now, can he mentally stay 100 percent if it doesn’t go in? I think he is more confident, I think he will be, and I think that’ll be a key to his game.â€ť
GOLDEN STATE: Over the summer, Byrd went to California to stay with a good family friend and work out. Part of that was to help regain some of the lateral mobility that those surgeries cost him, especially on the defensive end of the court.
â€śI’d say he’s 80, 85 percent better with his foot,” Izzo said. “Now, I don’t know if he’ll ever be perfect after three surgeries. But he definitely shooting the ball better. Now, it’s getting that athleticism back, because he’s a very good athlete. There’s still some progress to be made there.â€ť
GOING DEEP: One of the reasons Izzo recruited Byrd was for his ability to shoot outside. So far, that’s not developed since arriving at MSU.
Byrdâ€™s field goal and 3-point shooting actually dropped last winter, from 27.9 and 27.3 percent in 2011-12, as he went from an expected bench contributor to a mop-up minutes guy.
â€śHe’s definitely shooting the ball better,â€ť Izzo said. â€śBut there is a thing called a 3 o’clock shooter â€“ a practice shooter â€“ and a game shooter. So some of that we’ll find out as the game comes.â€ť