WEST LAFAYETTE — DJ Byrd has found himself in a familiar position, with a much different role for the Purdue Men’s Basketball team.
The 2009 North Montgomery and 2013 Purdue graduate is in his second and final season as a graduate assistant for Purdue’s Men’s Basketball program and the Boilermakers are enjoying some of the same success they did during his four-year playing career.
“It’s been equally exciting, and we’ve been fortunate to have a great set of players,” Byrd said about the recent success. “The four seniors that graduated last year that kind of brought this program back and then guys that kind of stepped into their roles around Carsen (Edwards) — who has been good for us at times, and struggled at times and we’ve still been able to pull out some wins and again I credit that to coach Painter.”
In Byrd’s four-year playing career, the Boilermakers posted a 93-45 record, went to three NCAA Tournaments, and won a Big Ten title during his freshman season. Byrd was also named the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year as a junior when the Boilermakers went 22-13 and advance to the round of 32 in the NCAA’s.
Over the last two years, Purdue has won 53 games against just 16 losses, and Byrd has been able to see what goes into the success from the coaching standpoint.
“We were kind of the first class of these two official grad assistant spots, so we kind of had to find our way in terms of what each coach prefers,” he said. “What coach Painter wants, some of the stuff we keep track of, some of the stuff we help with opponents scouts and all that. This year after having that year of experience, I understand how to improve certain things and make processes more efficient both for coaches looking at video, and coaches getting some information on recruiting. There’s just a lot that I’ve learned that I didn’t know beforehand.”
Before taking the role as a graduate assistant back in the summer of 2017, Byrd was an assistant at Franklin Community and helping organize youth camps, clinics, and run RIMROC Basketball, an organization he formed. Over the last twos seasons, Byrd has been able to bring all of his coaching experiences together and form a new perspective on the job.
“Everyone says that hindsight is 20/20, so now that I’m in this coaching role, I understand the staff and what we are trying to do,” he said. “You can tell that I’ve been able to learn a lot and grow a lot just by the things that I’ve been dealing with the last few years as far as running camps and running clinics and doing stuff like that has helped.”
Days before Christmas, the Boilermakers were just 6-5 and looked to be in disarray. Byrd feels like this team just needed time to adjust, after losing four senior starters from a season ago.
“We knew at the start of the year that it was going to take some time and that was probably the biggest think was time,” he said. “Fortunately it happened for us after we started 6-5, and we had some close ones.”
Once again, Byrd points to Painter — who won Big Ten Coach of the Year honors as the Boilermakers posted a 16-4 conference record and shared the league title with Michigan State. Painter also won Big Ten Coach of the Year honors during Byrd’s freshman and sophomore seasons.
“I think he deserves the coach of the year award and again I don’t have experience working with another staff, but at the same time everyday I learn something new and I find out something new about former players. There’s something everyday that I can take away from the way he thinks and the way that he’s able to involve all five of our players and use their strengths to our advantage.”
Byrd says that the coaching staff started to look back at the film of the non-conference portion of the season and noticed possessions that they weren’t taking care of the ball or took off defensively and Painter started to flip some lineups and had guys play well, saw more shots being made, offensive rebounds being had, and screens being set and that helped shifted the momentum.
The Boilermakers climbed off the mid-season tournament bubble and into a No. 3 seed for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. They open play on Thursday against Old Dominion in Hartford, Conn.
For now, Byrd is enjoying Purdue’s most recent successes — this time from the sidelines — with the hopes of landing a job as an assistant somewhere this summer.
“Right now focusing on the task at hand,” he said. “It’s been quite a learning experience, and I’m trying to turn that into something for next year. I think it’s helped me see what an assistant coach at this level needs to do to be successful, and understand the time commitment.”