Byars: Commodores can be improved

Vanderbilt's senior wingman Derrick Byars sat down recently to talk candidly with VandyMania's Brent Wiseman about the disappointments of last year, and the reasons his hopes are sky-high for the coming season. The Commodores open the season Wednesday at 7 pm CT vs. 8th-ranked Georgetown.

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Q: Derrick, your senior year is here. You've had a 5-year career. You sat out, of course, between your sophomore and junior years when you transferred. As you look back on that now, is your career about where you thought it would be when you signed out of high school?

Vanderbilt senior forward Derrick Byars: I can't say that it's exactly what I thought it would be. It has been a different road than I had planned on taking. I started my career elsewhere. It led me here to Nashville. I still have another year left. This is a very big year for me. I get a chance to do some of the things I want to accomplish.

Q: Very few basketball players over the years have transferred into Vanderbilt. You have done it, Ross Neltner has done it, but I think that's probably because it's so difficult to do from an educational standpoint. Has that been an OK transition for you?

A: It has. It's been a great transition, coming from Virginia, which is probably one of the top public institutions in the nation. My coaches told me that I should always take care of academics first. I'm majoring in Sociology.

Q: The basketball team is very close to each other I know, but have you found it easy to mix in at Vanderbilt and its atmosphere outside of basketball? Or do you even try to do that very much?

A: Mostly I don't. Most of the time it's pretty much basketball and studies. But the atmosphere, I'm pretty used to. Nashville is kind of reminiscent of my hometown, Memphis, in a lot of ways. It didn't take much getting used to.

Q: How do you view last year? Some would say it was a little bit of a disappointment. You guys had NCAA hopes, and you didn't quite get there. How do you view it now that you've had seven months to think about it?

A: It was a big disappointment. Last year was a big disappointment in a lot of ways. We didn't fulfill all the things we set out to do, but it's in the past. We need to concentrate on the future now.

Q: If you had to attribute last year's disappointments to one or two things, what would you say?

A: You can't point the fingers at any single guy, but I would just say it was chemistry issues within the team. It was very difficult to establish chemistry as well as leadership. Those were the two things we addressed over the off-season.

Q: Now people are looking at you and saying, you lost some key people. You had some guys transfer unexpectedly, and there's no way you can be quite as good as you were last year. I'm sure you probably disagree with that. Tell us why you feel differently. How do you feel it's possible the team can be better?

A: I do see it differently. We lost DeMarre Carroll unexpectedly. We lost Kyle Madsen, who redshirted last season, and considering everything they brought to the table, it will be hard to replace them. But I feel that with the pieces we have coming in, they can compensate for what those two guys brought. It will also give us a different look.

Q: Last year you had to play point guard a little bit. Nothing personal, but I think it's probably a bad sign if you have to go to point guard. Would you agree?

A: (Laughing) Well, last year we were in an awkward situation with that. It wasn't a very stable position as far as productivity was going. I'm capable of playing it. I don't think that's where my skills are most capable of being used, but... if I have to play it this year, it probably is a bad sign. Because we have two great point guards.

Q: It sounds as though the point guard position is in really good shape this year.

A: It really is. Alex Gordon has developed extremely during the off-season. And we have a freshman, Jermaine Beal, who's as SEC ready as any point guard could be right now.

Q: The other big concern that folks are going to have about this team is the rebounding, the inside game. You and Shan Foster obviously have things nailed down at the wings, but where is your rebounding going to come from this year?

A: I have full confidence in my post players. Ted Skuchas... Alan Metcalfe, he's probably made the most dramatic improvement I've seen of anyone in a long time, so expect big things from him. Ross Neltner also transferred in, and we've got a new freshman JeJuan Brown as well. And myself, I plan to get in the rebounding mix as well. Rebounding... we're working on it. It may still be one of our weaker points, but all you can do is continue to try to improve, and maximize what we have elsewhere.

Q: Usually at the end of the season, Coach sits down with each player and tells him what he wants him to work on in the off-season. What did he tell you he wanted you to work on?

A: It's funny, Coach and I both were in complete agreement on what I needed to work on. It's finishing. When I get to the basket, finishing the shots. When I get it near the paint, have to go up with contact, try to finish with an "and-one". Finishing with authority.


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