D.J. Byrd is a born-and-raised Hoosier. He played high school basketball at North Montgomery High in Crawfordsville, was rated the top Indiana recruit in 2009 by 247Sports and only went a couple of miles north up U.S. Route 231 to play college ball at Purdue.
What he might not have realized then was the strong foundation he was laying for the future, as he would eventually pursue coaching.
In the current college basketball climate, it seems as though every few weeks a new scandal breaks with a new coach or school named. When a coach has been alleged to make a major, newsworthy recruiting violation, he will be forever associated with the scandal; a tremendous career dirtied by poor decisions.
Not only does it affect the coach but it also affects his coaching tree. Former assistants who may now be coaching elsewhere or current assistants still in the program will all be connected to that coach who made a misstep somewhere along the line.
That’s not to say that the assistants themselves made violations — not at all — but that they are connected to it.
But to be in Matt Painter’s coaching tree means you do things the right way, you play by the rules and you invest in players that are worth coaching.
After the Boilermakers lost in the Elite Eight, former Purdue assistant coach Greg Gary traveled to Macon, Georgia, to begin the search for his coaching staff as the new head coach of the Mercer men’s basketball team.
There was nothing but an outpouring of joy and happiness for Gary’s opportunity; it had been a long time coming. So when the search began, he didn’t have to look much further than his former fellow coaches.
Graduate assistant D.J. Byrd will be joining Gary in Macon to become the team’s new director of basketball operations, as confirmed to The Exponent on Wednesday.
Byrd, a prolific 3-point shooter who is eighth in school history with 195 career 3-pointers made, has been a graduate assistant for the past two seasons under Painter. He played from 2009-13, coming in when Purdue was projected to make the Final Four and leaving when Purdue began a downward spiral.
He is the bridge between some of Painter’s best teams, having played with Robbie Hummel, JuJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, A.J. Hammons and Rapheal Davis.
As a player, he has seen Purdue at its highest of highs and lowest of lows.
As a graduate assistant, he’s seen what it takes to make a highly competitive Big Ten team run behind the scenes. Among a long list of duties, he was tasked with helping with scouting reports, recruiting, facilitating on-campus events and organizing summer camps.
He had a hand in so many things at Purdue, it’s hard to keep count. Byrd knows the value of hard work and creating and sustaining a family culture.
As a good shooter, he worked with Gary on offense as a GA, developing a close relationship with him along the way. So when the opportunity opened up for him to become a full-time basketball director, he, again, jumped at it — sort of.
“I wanted to say ‘Yes!’ right away,” Byrd said, “but nowadays you’ve got to think about it. You gotta weigh the pros and cons, and there were just so many pros.”
Before accepting, he called a couple coaches, including Painter. He sought advice and different opinions. The response was humbling.
“Just know that Coach Gary is not asking you because you’ve known him for a while,” Byrd said Painter told him. “He’s asking you because you’ve done the work that a lot of people don’t really notice. It’s a lot of the technical stuff, the smaller detail stuff.”
Hard work pays off, and Byrd was finally rewarded for everything he’s worked at.
“I was kind of quietly earning the position over the past two, three years, doing all those things together,” he said.
As Byrd departs for the Southern Conference, he will now forever be linked to the 2019 NABC National Coach of the Year. That’s not something to take lightly, and Byrd never did.
“I’m very fortunate to spend every day in the conference room, and I almost didn’t have enough space in my notebook to write down everything,” Byrd said. “So there’s a lot of information that comes out of being on a staff like his, and we’re going to try to emulate that here at Mercer.”
He learned how to recruit players that you want to coach, not players that have the most talent.
“If there’s too much ... baggage, distractions involved with certain players,” Byrd said, “Coach Painter’s made that decision that it might not be worth it to take talent with baggage like that and rather take, you know, the Grady Eiferts of the world. The guys like Aaron Wheeler and Eric Hunter that didn’t play a lot throughout the year, but were able to come in and win some games for us off the bench because of the way they were able to keep a good attitude.”
While the transition has already begun, and hard work to build a better Mercer program is underway — Byrd has already logged a 13-hour workday — its been made easier by the support of family.
“My wife, Ashley, has been so supportive and made the transition so much easier,” Byrd said. “We’re excited to go on this new adventure together.”
Despite being on Mercer’s campus already, Byrd will graduate in May with a Master’s of Science.
The exciting future is just the beginning, as he and Gary get to build their own team and program together.
“We have big plans and high hopes for Mercer basketball.”