Catching up with Derrick Byars

Byars

What have you been up to? I heard you were playing basketball overseas.

Yes. When I was released by Philly in late October, I signed with the Koln 99ers in Cologne , Germany . After several problems there, I left the organization. Since then, I’ve been playing in France for the defending French League champion Chorale-Roanne since late January/early February. Currently, I am preparing for the playoffs here and honing my skills.

When you decided to transfer from Viriginia why did you choose Vanderbilt?

I chose Vandy because the program seemed to be heading in a positive direction coming off a Sweet 16 appearance. There was a lot of excitement building around the program including the 2004 recruiting class that included some of this past year’s seniors. I’€™d already met/known a few players like Mario and JT from younger days and I’€™d already established a good connection with Coach Stallings, Coach Jackson and the rest of the staff from earlier recruitment during high school. Plus being only 2.5 hours from home ( Memphis ) was a lot better than the 12-13 hour distance at Virginia.

What are you most proud of from your time at Vandy?

I am proud of a lot of things. My teammates’€™ work ethic and development. Their will to listen to the coaching staff and improve. My coach earning Coach of the Year honors and his entire staff being a reflection of that honor. Working together with my teammates to achieve certain goals. Surpassing individual goals I set for myself. But I’m probably most proud of graduating though, since odds were against me. And that’s something I love doing—beating the odds. So I’m proudest of that.

You played in a lot gyms/arenas during your career such as the Dean Smith Center, Cameron Indoor, and Rupp Arena. How does Memorial Gym compare to other places around the country?

I believe Memorial has easily emerged as a top 5 venue in college basketball. And in the past year, it has to rank among the top 2 or 3, because if I’m not mistaking, since conference season started during the 2006-07 season, the Commodores only lost 1 game there, which was Senior Night for me, Dan, and Ted against Arkansas . Of course, they were undefeated there this year. That record may not be comparable with anyone else in the country.

Your junior year what do you remember about the Oregon game? The Memorial Magic really worked as Mario hit the buzzer beater. Is that what Coach Stallings drew up?

What I remember about the Oregon game was guarding Aaron Brooks their last possession and allowing him to hit the potential game-winning floater right over me. If we would’€™ve lost, I would’ve taken that the hardest. The ensuing play was drawn up for Mario to catch it and survey the floor for the best option. Shan was in the corner and Ted was setting a downscreen for me. We were probably covered pretty well and Mario said it felt good the moment it left his hand so it worked out perfectly.

Later that year we went up to Lexington and got our program’s first victory at Rupp arena. How special was that win?

To me, the victory felt good because I believe they may have been ranked that year at the time. However, I can only imagine how significant it may have been for Vanderbilt alumni, followers, and former players because it was as if we’€™d defeated a curse. It was significant, but I couldn’€™t really grasp the full meaning behind it because the losing streak began before I was born but it was only my first time playing at Rupp. Very defining moment though and everyone was ecstatic afterward.

You experienced the Memorial Magic again when Shan Foster hit the put back off of your miss to beat UT. What do you remember thinking as you watched that unfold?

That’s the thing. I never saw the tip unfold because I fell to the ground. Ross gave me a great pass that not many players could’ve threaded the needle€ on and all I kept thinking was don’t settle€. I wanted to get something at the rim and possibly draw contact. At the very least, I wanted to give the ball a chance by getting it above the cylinder. Whether it was magic or Shan’€™s natural court savvy, I’€™m glad he made such an instinctive play to clean up my miss.

How cool was it to upset #1 Florida at home?

It was a great win for our program. I think it really showed that we were an elite team in not only our conference, but America . What made it a bit more satisfying was that we felt we let one slip away a few weeks earlier in Gainesville by losing a double digit halftime lead. The second game we laid the hammer down from the start and never looked back. It was a great victory for everyone surrounding the program to enjoy.

What did you think about the incident between Joakim Noah and Coach Stallings?

I didn’t know what to think actually. The backdoor pass to Shan went out of bounds straight to Coach. He caught it and as he was trying to say something to one of our players, Noah tried to inbound the ball quickly. The exchange was funny even at the time because it’€™s not everyday you see something like that. It was just one of those funny moments in college basketball that will be talked about and replayed for some time.

What are your thoughts on the Kentucky game late in the year where we trailed the entire game until the last 30 seconds to squeak out the win?

That game just kind of signified how far we had come as a team since losing to Furman at home during non-conference. Whenever you can trail an entire game to an NCAA tournament team and still find a way to gut it out at the end, it showed how confident of a group we had become in crunchtime situations as well as how together we had become.

In the Washington State NCAA tournament game there where so many great moments. To me the key to the game was your blocked shot off of that big steal with a few seconds left in overtime. They would’ve won the game. What are your thoughts on that big game?

There were so many big plays to that game. As I recount that game, there was a possession where Ted hustled and got us an extra chance to score and Dan sniffed it out and made the pass to Shan to hit a crucial three during regulation. Nobody talks about that play but Ted solely being in the vicinity created an extra chance we might not have gotten. He was huge late in the game. He gave us a body to guard Baynes and Cowgill as well as offensive production. Shan made huge shots. Dan made savvy plays. Ross was big. Red came up big guarding Rochestie and making shots. My overall thought about the game is that guys made winning plays against a tough opponent.

About the Georgetown game Dan Cage told me “To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that I will ever be able to put it completely behind me. I have relived the last 15 seconds or so a million times in my head.” What are your thoughts?

It’s funny because Dan and I ran into each other when I was in Germany and that exact line came up in our conversation…..from both of us. We talked about how hard we took that loss. It was evident because he and I were the 1st two and only players in the locker room seemingly for 5 whole minutes after the game. I remember everything about that game and Dan and I talked about “where should we have been when Green picked up the ball? Should we have come double-teamed? Was there any way I could’ve anticipated them running that play? €œWas my defensive position correct on the weak side? And the truth is, there was no better way Shan could’€™ve guarded Jeff Green that play. Our team defense was solid. For a while after that game, I thought about what could have been or what should have been and it took me 3 months to watch the actual taping. That last play was so cemented in my memory that I had nightmares about it. But as with everything in life, it passed, and you learn to move on.

Do you think Jeff Green traveled?

In America , where that game was played, that was a definite traveling violation. Even Jeff admitted it himself when I ran into him last summer.

Where is your SEC player of the Year trophy?

In the confines of a secret location in Memphis.