Anticipation growing to see Byars in action

When coach Kevin Stallings repeatedly refers to this year's squad as Vanderbilt's most athletic in years, that has a lot to do with the addition of Derrick Byars. If the junior transfer from the University of Virginia plays anywhere near as well as expected, he and Preseason All-SEC First Teamer Shan Foster will make a very formidable tandem on the wing.

After sitting out last year due to NCAA regulations, Byars will finally get to make his contribution as a Dore in just a few weeks. Billed as one of the most well-rounded offensive players on the squad, the Memphis native is perhaps the most anticipated newcomer for Vandy fans.

"Derrick is a very talented player," Stallings said. "He's a very athletically gifted kid, who can shoot the ball, pass the ball, handle the ball. He's a very versatile guy that we'll use to play a lot of different positions on the court."

At 6'7" 225 lbs., Byars can play both "bigger and smaller than his size," according to Stallings. His coach sees in him the skills to handle everything from running the offense at the point to banging down low in the post.

Needless to say, such versatility will make Byars a serious offensive weapon in the ultra-competitive SEC, especially now that he has improved his effectiveness at close range.

"I've played out on the perimeter all my life, so that's where I feel most comfortable," Byars said. "But I've been working in the offseason on extending my game in the mid-range and posting up, so I've tried to add that in the offseason."

Byars also possesses the ball-handling skills necessary to allow him to create a lot of his own shots.

"I don't know if he's our most complete offensive player," Stallings said, "but he's a very complete offensive player. Derrick hasn't played a game for us yet, and we'll have to see how he's going to respond to game action, but thus far in practice, he's been very good."

Byars certainly showed promise coming out of high school, adapting very quickly to the pace of ACC play. During his sophomore season at Virginia, Byars recorded an average of 7.5 points and 3.4 rebounds per game while starting 18 of 31 games played, scoring in double figures 11 times. As a freshman Cavalier, Byars had started only two games less, averaging 6.5 points and nearly 3 rebounds per game. He also shot 42.4 percent from three-point land in his final 14 games of that season.

All in all, Vanderbilt can count itself fortunate to have acquired such talent after losing out on Byars during his recruitment.

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"In high school, I committed one week before I was supposed to visit here," Byars said, "so I never got a chance to see first-hand what Vanderbilt was like outside of my unofficial visit, which I took in the 11th grade when I came to a Tennessee game here. They have a lot of attractive features about the school—needless to say, the academics, and this program is on the rise as far as SEC play and even nationwide."

Byars also seems well aware of just how big of a contribution he can make to this team. Taking his basketball talents as a given, he hopes to define himself further with tenacious play.

"I want to bring a lot of intensity and toughness out there on the court," he said. "Everything else will take care of itself as far as talent."

Between the kind of confidence and skill that he has displayed in practice, Commodore fans have every reason to be excited about finally seeing No. 4 in action.

Derrick Byars looks to make an instant impact at Vandy in 2005-06. (VM/Whitney D.)

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