Russell Byrd Works Hard to Contribute
A wise person once said that a mental fight means thinking against the current, not with it. With the 2012-13 season not quite going as planned, Russell Byrd has come to a point in his collegiate career where he must think against his own current and trust his true instincts.
A native of Fort Wayne, Ind., Byrd was highly recruited out of Blackhawk Christian, averaging 23.2 points and 10.1 rebounds as a senior. With his smooth stroke and 6’7 and 205-pound frame, he earned the recognition of being named an Indiana All-Star for the first time in school history.
As a nationally-ranked player, Byrd had his choice of schools at which to pursue a collegiate career, but one key aspect made it clear that he was meant to be a Spartan.
“I came here for the family atmosphere. Family is a big thing here at Michigan State,” said Byrd. “When I was getting recruited here, Delvon (Roe) and Travis Walton treated me like I was a brother from day one. It was surprising that they cared so much about me and I had just met them. They went out of their way to make me feel welcome. That was something that really stuck with me. I felt like I wanted to be a part of that.”
Byrd soon learned that the family atmosphere he experienced with the team extended far beyond the locker room and would come to be the backbone of Michigan State.
“My favorite part about playing is the support from the fans,” Byrd said. “Everyone from the ‘IZZONE’ to the upper bowl, they are just great. The Spartan nation is a big nation. There are a lot of Spartan fans, a lot of people who care about you and want the best for you. Particularly in East Lansing, there are a lot of people who will help you out when you need it. It’s just the feeling you get when you’re here.”
Byrd has experienced his share of setbacks here at Michigan State. After undergoing three surgeries on his left foot between May 2010 and May 2011, Byrd has fought back to earn playing time for the Spartans. He hopes to make up for lost time and work to re-establish himself on the team.
“I just want to be a contributor on the court,” said Byrd. “I just want to make progress from where I’m at right now, and get better every day. For me, it’s been a long road and there’s still a lot to go. It’s baby steps. I have to take it day-by-day. Just to get better every day is my personal goal, and to not take any steps backwards.”
His size gives Byrd the potential to make major contributions to the Spartans. However, now that he is back in physical condition, it is the mental aspect of the game that seems to be holding him back.
“I think I’ve overcome a lot, I’ve got a little bit left,” Byrd said. “I want to play better and be the player I used to be. It’s really a mental fight. That’s the last part of it. Physically, I’m not like I used to be, but I’m capable. I’m able to survive in Division I basketball. So physically, I’m a lot better. But mentally, I just have to get my confidence back, whether that’s shooting or just not being scared of getting hurt again.”
The Spartans have had to deal with a few misfortunes this season, but Byrd knows the possibilities that lie ahead for the team.
“We’ve got amazing pieces, and we’ve just got to fit the puzzle together. We’ve got a lot of talent; a lot of tools. We’ve put the puzzle together a little bit; we just need to finish it. Once we finish it, we really do have one of the best teams in the country.”
Chosen as a co-captain with teammate Derrick Nix, Byrd has had to learn to contribute to the team in more ways than one. With his teammates and coaches behind him, it’s important for Byrd to take the trust others have in him to build his own confidence.
“It meant a lot,” Byrd said. “I was really excited about it and still am. It’s kind of hard to figure out how to lead and be the captain when you’re not a big part of the team come game day. It’s a big role. It’s something I’m trying to work at, because when you’re not one of the guys contributing a lot, you have to change how you approach the whole leadership thing. I just have to figure out how to do that. I’ve been getting help from the coaches. I just have to take it day-by-day and never give up.”
With a different role to play, Byrd has eased into his approach to be a leader for the Spartans, taking cues from those around him.
“What it means to be a Spartan has developed every year,” said Byrd. “I think that right now what that means is to be good is not good enough. You have to be great. They want the best out of each aspect of your life, whether that’s your schoolwork, your social life and basketball. They want the best in every area. You never settle for being average. “
What brought him to Michigan State were his talents, the Spartan family and his undying passion for the game. Although the passion is not lost, it has been struggling to get back to the forefront after a hard road in East Lansing.
“At heart, I really am a competitor; I hate losing,” explained Byrd. “I want to be the best. I want to be the best player on this team. I just know that I hit a speed bump; I hit a roadblock. I think my competitiveness may have dwindled during that time, but my passion for the game has always been there. I just have to find that competitive edge and rekindle the fire a little bit. Injury will do that to you, especially a severe injury and three in a row on top of that. It will take you out of the game, physically and mentally. I think a lot of my passion came from always wanting to be the best and not lose. I hated losing; I hated getting beat by somebody. I just have to get that back.”
As Byrd continues to develop little by little, look for good things in his future.
***This article was featured in the January 31 edition of MSU's Game Program***