With the commitment of Daniel Orton now in the books, thoughts turn to who will be next to join the Big Blue train. While it is unclear where exactly Billy Gillispie goes from here in the coming weeks, it does seem that the next big decision by a UK recruit will come from Russell Byrd. Byrd is a 6’7″ wing player who has three attributes that should intrigue all fans. (1) He is a deadeye shooter, potentially the best at his position in the class from beyond the three point line; (2) he is longer than most “shoot first” guys and still has room to grow; and (3) he has red hair. The latter may be my greatest attachment to the young man, as finding great red-headed basketball players not named Bill Walton is increasingly difficult (Bomani will try and tell you that Dennis Johnson had red hair….I refuse to believe him).
Beyond his folicles however, Byrd is the type of shooter that a top-notch program does need to succeed. When one looks at this year’s Kentucky team, the lack of shooting ability could be the greatest hinderance to success, a problem that could be fixed with one individual who could come in and drain the open three. This exactly the type of player Byrd can be. From behind the arc, he has the potential to be a game changer and it is this attribute that has coaches so interested in his game. Other parts of Byrd’s game are a work in progress and I do wonder how Byrd would work in the defensive system that Gillispie currently employs. His quickness is an issue, but he makes up for it with length and a first step that isnt too slow. Some have compared him to Jon Hood and wondered if he will be a high riser in the rankings, and I find both unlikely. Hood is much more athletic and a lot different than Byrd in game style. But in the right system, Byrd can flourish and I am sure that is what Gillispie is looking for….in the same way that he pursued Rotnei Clarke last year.
At this point, Russell (who the girls likely will start calling “The Love Muscle”) is basically down to Michigan State and Kentucky and the small favorite is likely MSU. He has a long relationship with Coach Izzo and has often said that he is closer to Izzo than any other coach. Plus, with the long history of red-haired Spartans (dont they seem to have one every year?), East Lansing seems like a logical destination. However Byrd also seems enamored with the UK program as a whole, telling TCP that it is the greatest basketball destination in the country. So it may come down to relationship vs program….in that scenario, relationship usually wins out, but you can never know for sure. Byrd attends Michigan State’s Midnight Madness this weekend and is expected to make a decision soon after. If he picks the Cats, he would join Dominque Ferguson, KC Ross-Miller and Dakotah Euton as part of the 2010 class. If not, another reason to reschedule the MSU-UK series…..
We have a lot all day…..it is Media Day and I will be spending part of the afternoon in Lexington getting the scoop. We will introduce two more bloggers to the Who Wants to be a Blogger contest and we will have both the Daniel Orton and Jeff Goodman interviews available for your listening pleasure. Take advantage of all of it and we will check in later………..