Offense best defense against faultfinders

Boys basketball: In the face of criticism of his size, speed and strength, Westminster senior Jon-David Byers eyes 1,000 career points.

High Schools

January 14, 2001|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Too small. Too slow. Too weak.

Westminster's Jon-David Byers, one of the state's best shooting guards, said he's heard those comments about himself and his basketball ability from critics all his life.

"And I've always wanted to prove them wrong," said the 5-foot-10, 150-pound Owls senior, who needs 17 points Tuesday at Urbana to score his 1,000th career point, and whose skill at shooting a basketball exceeds only by a smidgen his skill at hitting a golf ball. He's a 2-handicap golfer and finished tied for eighth in the state high school championships in the fall.

Through 11 games, Byers is averaging 23.9 points, up from his 19.7 average his junior year. But that hasn't been enough to silence his staunchest critics.

Unable to nit-pick at his considerable offensive abilities, they say Byers doesn't play any defense.

"I hear that a lot," Byers said. "I may not be the quickest, greatest defensive player, but I try. If I was 6-1, you wouldn't hear that I can't play defense."

Byers averages three steals a game, an indication he's playing at least some defense.

His father, Dave, has coached the varsity team at Westminster for 23 seasons, and for seven seasons at North Carroll before that. So Jon-David Byers should know how to play defense.

"He knows how to play," his father said.

Jon-David Byers said: "I was always around dad's practices, and being around the game so much has taught me things I might not otherwise know. I'm able to see things develop. Seeing the court is one of my strengths. I draw attention, so I have to find the open people."

Byers makes some remarkable passes and frequently gives the ball up, as he did to teammate Tavon Saunders for a game-winning three-point basket against Bowling Brook with two seconds left.

But shooting is Byers' top skill. He shoots 50.6 percent from the field (90-for-178), 43.8 percent from three-point range (42-for-96) and 86 percent from the foul line (43-for-50).

His high games this season included 33 points against Franklin and 31 points against Watkins Mill - on back-to-back nights in the Westminster Holiday Classic.

He scored 18 first-half points against perennial Central Maryland Conference power Thomas Johnson and 24 for the game despite tight defense that made him work hard for every shot. Byers sank one memorable three-pointer that game from way beyond the arc.

"You can't really stop him. He's a terrific shooter," Thomas Johnson coach Tom Dickman said after that game.

Byers built his shooting skill with hours per day of practice at his home while growing up.

"I would take 500 shots per day on my own," he said. "Where I used to live there was no neighborhood, so I spent a lot of time alone. We had a blacktop court in the back yard. One rim was 10-feet high and hung on a telephone pole. The other rim was adjustable and we kept it at 7 feet to help me shoot."

He said he learned the proper shooting form at an early age, and started playing Westminster travel ball in the fourth grade - against fifth- and sixth-graders in a Baltimore City Amateur Athletic Union league.

"I always played up against older kids and that helped me in the long run. It improves your game," he said. "It made my transition from junior varsity to varsity a lot easier."

Byers played varsity his sophomore year and averaged 10.5 points.

Last season, the team posted its best record in school history at 20-3, winning the CMC championship. Despite losing a lot of talented players to graduation, the Owls started strong again at 7-1, but have hit a slump, losing their past three games.

He has lifted weights since his sophomore year to improve his strength, but a bout with mononucleosis last spring set him back.

Byers has a 3.9 grade-point average, and wants to pursue a business degree and basketball in college. He's being recruited by Division III schools such as Lebanon Valley, Catholic and Franklin and Marshall.

"I've gotten calls from Division I schools for golf, but my heart is still with basketball, so I've never considered them. I think I could play Division I basketball, but I know my future is not the NBA. Academics will get me a job. I'm doing basketball just for the love of it."

His height works against any Division I basketball hopes. But Byers thinks he may not be done growing.

"My brother is 6-2, and he was a late-maturing kid who grew after high school."

A growth spurt would be music to Byers' ears, and a gong for his critics.

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