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Russell Byrd is darling of the Izzone, but he's due for a big year.
By most accounts, Russell Byrd is a genuinely nice guy who's rolled with the punches during his trek with the Spartans.
In 2010-11, Byrd joined Izzo's program.
As a sharpshooter with the most pinpoint of pinpoint accuracy at Blackhawk Christian (Fort Wayne, Ind.), Byrd hit a wall when he arrived in East Lansing—and he hasn't quite recovered since.
For some reason, the now redshirt junior couldn't miss in practice, but he couldn't hit in a game. Izzo gave him chance after chance, opportunity after opportunity, for redemption. Byrd wasn't going to be abandoned by Izzo—no, not yet.
The Spartans coach feels about the same (at least as of April, according to ESPN) as he did when he recruited the 3-star prep small forward nearly four years ago. Byrd will get going.
Give. Byrd. More. Time.
Izzo said the following about Byrd's upcoming summer, according to MLive.com's Diamond Leung (via ESPN).
I guess it doesn't bother me if anybody believes in him, but give him a chance because this will be the first true summer where he is going to be 99 percent healthy. There's no question that kid can still help us because we need a shooter.
He lives, eats and sleeps the game, and then I have to listen to him talking to me about Twitter and how people are just ripping him on this and that -- people who have no clue and no understanding. Am I disappointed in Russell Byrd? Two hundred percent. I'm disappointed because I had a guy who was a gym rat, who loves the game, who is a good kid and was dealt a bad set of cards.
After foot surgeries and setbacks, Byrd averaged less than one basket in eight minutes per game in 2012-13. He was the No. 21 small forward of 2010 (Rivals) and ranked No. 115 on Rivals.com's top 150 chart. This is the summer, without any sliver of a doubt, for Byrd to really shake off the cobwebs and live up to his potential.
Byrd is loosely reminiscent of former Flint Powers Catholic star center Tom Herzog, a 7-footer who set MHSAA records in blocks and owned the court as a prepster. However, the 4-star recruit (2006) didn't flourish in the Big Ten, despite his celebrated work ethic.
Like Byrd, Herzog was a fan favorite just because of his willingness to battle criticism with a smile on his face. Herzog graduated from Michigan State in 2010 and transferred to Central Florida, where he saw an abundance of playing time and personal success.
Now, Byrd's situation is different in terms of years left of eligibility. But it parallels the overall feeling Izzo, the team and the fans had for Herzog.
Maybe you don't follow Spartans basketball that closely (but chances are pretty good that you do if you're reading this). But if you have a soft spot for the world of collegiate sports in general, you have to admire Byrd's grit and ability to grow a thick skin to shield him from harsh words from one of the most passionate college hoops fanbases in the land.