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College Basketball: Westminster grad Byers enjoys coaching sport he loves

College Basketball: Westminster grad Byers enjoys coaching sport he loves
St. Francis assistant coach J.D. Byers, a Westminster grad, gives intructions to players during a game against Mount St. Mary's in Emmitsburg during the 2010-11 season. (Unknown / Dave Munch/staff photo)

J.D. Byers was playing basketball at Lebanon Valley College when he knew he wanted to coach the sport he loved one day. Unsure of which level, he still had aspirations to work within the collegiate ranks.

His aspirations became real when he landed a graduate assistant coaching position at Fairleigh Dickinson-Florham following his graduation in 2005. He has since built an extensive coaching resume in the last 15 years leading up to his current position as an assistant coach for Rice University's men's basketball team.

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The 2001 Westminster High graduate, a former Times Boys Basketball Player of the Year, earned a spot in Lebanon Valley's Sports Hall of Fame back in October. Byers is a second-year assistant with Rice, his sixth college coaching stop in 11 years.

"The last two years at Rice have been great," Byers said. "Reuniting with Coach [Mike] Rhoades to work with him again has been awesome. I work with guys who are great people and who I enjoy being around. We inherited and have since recruited some high-character young men who are hungry to improve.

"The next few years should be exciting as we continue to help Rice rise."

The Owls are 6-13 this season, 1-5 in Conference-USA heading into Saturday's game at Middle Tennessee.

When Rhoades coached at Randolph-Macon College, he expressed recruiting interest in Byers when he was a high school junior. Instead, Byers chose to attend Rhoades' alma mater, Lebanon Valley. In 2007, Byers joined Rhoades as his assistant at Randolph-Macon and after two years of working together, Rhoades left for Virginia Commonwealth in nearby Richmond.

In Byers' last season with the Yellow Jackets, the team advanced to the NCAA Division III Final Four in 2010. After one season at St. Francis University in Loretto, Pennsylvania, Byers spent the next three years as an assistant at Radford University in Virginia before making the move to Houston to join Rhoades.

Byers admits he has bounced around a bit during his college coaching career. But watching players grow and mature as respectable student-athletes have made his experience that much more rewarding, he said.

"It all starts with recruiting the right kids," Byers said. "Those that will be competitive and do things the right way and those that are tough, physically and mentally. It's hard but it all starts with laying down the right foundation and culture right from the start."

After all, Byers grew up with a basketball in hand.

He was a three-year varsity player at Westminster and led the Owls to a 20-3 record in his junior season. His 1,338 career points are second all-time in program history, and fourth highest for a Carroll public-school player.

As a standout point guard at Lebanon Valley, Byers led the Dutchmen men's basketball team to the second round of the NCAA tournament and holds the program record with 301 3-point field goals made. He was pegged an academic All-American three times, twice in his junior campaign as a member of the men's golf team and on the basketball court.

His 1,898 career points rank fifth in Dutchmen history, and Byers was twice named Commonwealth Conference Player of the Year. In 2013, he earned All-Century Team honors from the Middle Atlantic Conference.

In 2005 he won the Jostens Trophy, awarded to college basketball's top Division III player, and was named the CoSIDA/ESPN The Magazine College Division Academic All-American of the Year.

"JD had a tremendous impact on the LVC basketball program," Dutchmen coach Brad McAlester said in a video posted on Lebanon Valley's sports website. "He was a very focused, intelligent, hard-working player, and that carried over to all the guys on the team."

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Byers was no exception to the double life of a student-athlete. He balanced two sports, plus a rigorous academic schedule and graduated with a 3.8 grade-point average as a double major in business and accounting.

"It was defintely a challenge for me at first," Byers said. "It taught me about time management and balancing a lot of different things at one time, but it was really good for me."

His exceptional academic and athletic achievements led to his induction into the LVC Sports Hall of Fame for both sports.

"As a player, that's one of the most rewarding things," he said. "My teammates all came back for it and it really shows why you play team sports. Any individual accomplishment you earn means so much more and the major contributions you get from teammates and how they help you. That's what makes it worthwhile, the brotherhood, and I never would have acheieved any of that without them."

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