Odd night for Byrd

Ben Byrd, senior columnist for Rocky Top News, faces a bizarre situation when he watches tonight's basketball game at Thompson-Boling Arena. One team (Tennessee) is his alma mater; the other team (Belmont) is coached by his son, Rick.

Byrd's ties to UT are strong. He was sports editor of the student newspaper in the 1940s, sandwiching his college days around a hitch in World War II. He covered Vol basketball and football for the next 40 years for The Knoxville Journal, retiring as the newspaper's sports editor and award-winning columnist. His love for ''The Hill'' rubbed off on his eldest son, who attended UT during the Ernie Grunfeld/Bernard King years. Rick walked on with the basketball program, played primarily for the junior varsity, then served as a graduate assistant on the Vol staff.

Now in his 19th year at Belmont, Rick Byrd helped the program move up to NCAA Div. 1 status a few years back. His 2003-04 Bruins stunned Missouri on the Tigers' home floor and eventually earned a bid to the NIT. Byrd, 51, has been so successful at the Nashville-based private school that he was considered a leading candidate for the Vanderbilt job when Kevin Stallings was on shaky ground following the 2002-03 season.

Ben Byrd, a member of the Rocky Top News' staff for 10 years, said he has never pulled against Tennessee in his life. But there's a first time for everything.

''There's no problem about who to pull for tonight,'' he said. ''It's Belmont all the way. I'd love to see Belmont win. Of course, if they should, I wouldn't be happy about Tennessee losing.''

Ideally, what would he like to see happen?

''I guess it would be Belmont winning a close game,'' Byrd said. ''But Rick's got pretty serious matchup problems, physically and athletically.''

Belmont, off to a 2-5 start, probably would've been a much sterner test a year ago. The 2003-04 Bruins had two outstanding players who have since graduated.

''They lost two guys who had really been the nerve center of their program -- got them going into Division 1,'' Ben Byrd said. ''They had a great center named Adam Mark, who was one of the top percentage shooters in the country. They also had a guard named Steve Drabyn, who was one of the top five nationally in 3-point shooting and foul shooting.''


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