Derrick Byars celebrated his 28th birthday in style, getting signed by the NBA's best team and scoring his first NBA points on Wednesday. After bouncing around summer leagues, being cut from preseason rosters, and grinding in Europe, the 6'7" wing finally made his mark in the big leagues nearly five years after leaving Vanderbilt.
The former SEC Player of the Year earned a call up to the San Antonio Spurs after averaging 15.2 points per game for the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA Developmental League. That mark was actually his lowest in three seasons in the D-League, but was enough to earn the respect of the veteran-laden Spurs, who had been looking to fill the 15th spot on their roster for several weeks. Byars's signing was a bit of a surprise - San Antonio has plenty of depth at the small forward position with players like Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, James Anderson, Manu Ginobli, Stephen Jackson, and Boris Diaw all able to play minutes there. However, the Spurs chose Byars instead of filling in a potentially shallow frontcourt.
This is great news for fans of Vandy's 2007 Sweet Sixteen run. Usually, basketball alumni updates are limited to tracking players over in the Euroleague. Byars is the first Commodore to play in the Association since Matt Freije played in 19 games for the Atlanta Hawks in the same year that Byars was leading the 'Dores to postseason success.
The rangy forward was originally drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers, who traded his rights to Philadephia immediately afterward. After failing to make the cut with the 76ers, he spent preseasons in 2008 and 2009 with Oklahoma City and Chicago, respectively, but was not retained by either team. He came the closest with the Bulls, earning a spot on the final roster before being cut on opening day. In 2011, he earned preseason minutes with the Miami Heat.
Byars wasn't given much time to acclimate himself to his new team, but performed well in short minutes on Wednesday night. He gave the San Antonio a 58-53 lead at the half with a last-second tip-in to stamp his arrival in the big leagues. He finished with two points and three rebounds in four minutes of play.
This emergence should signal the beginning of a Vanderbilt revival in the NBA. Jeffery Taylor, Festus Ezeli, and John Jenkins are all expected to be picks in this year's draft, giving Byars some company in the big leagues. With no Commodores amongst NBA rotations since the days of Will Perdue, this presence should be a boost to Vandy basketball's profile and to Kevin Stallings's recruiting visits. Until the 2012 team's big three can get there, we'll have to settle for rooting for Byars as he realizes his goal of playing for a NBA team in the postseason.