Rice Assistant J.D. Byers (2014) – Enthusiasm, Appreciation & Toughness

JD Byers, National Coaches’ Diary (http://collegechalktalk.com/2014/12/22/rice-assistant-j-d-byers-enthusiasm-appreciation-toughness/)

2014 – It’s great to be back for another year as a contributor to the College Chalktalk National Coaches’ Diary Series.  This has been a unique opportunity for me to share my experiences as a College Basketball Coach to those around the country.  Most see college basketball games on TV but have very little understanding on what goes into the product that shows up on the floor on a nightly basis.

A lot has changed since my last post.  On March 24th, our team at Radford University had our season ended at Old Dominion University in the second round of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) Tournament.  It was an historic season for the program: 22 wins, which tied the school record, as well as the 1st postseason win as an NCAA Division 1 member (Winning at Oregon State).  Just three years prior, our staff inherited a program that had won just five games, was facing NCAA probation from issues spilling over from the previous coaching staff and just seven scholarship players. Many of my posts over the last three years have detailed the journey our program at Radford had been through to reach the level of success we experienced last year.

Ironically, on March 25th, just one day later, my coaching life would suddenly reverse itself three years.  Late in the afternoon, I received a text message from my former boss at Randolph-Macon College, Mike Rhoades.  At the time, Coach Rhoades was the Associate Head Coach at Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) where he had worked with my boss at Radford, Mike Jones.  Coach’s text read that he was taking the head coaching position at Rice University. The last part of the text read, “Are you in??”  Coach Rhoades has helped me through the coaching profession since hiring me in 2007 as his assistant at D-III powerhouse Randolph-Macon College.  Coach and I both attended Lebanon Valley College and he had recruited me out of high school.

During his five years at VCU, Coach Rhoades had many opportunities to become a D-I Head Coach.  However, he had been very selective over that time.  Therefore, when he said he was taking the job at Rice, I knew he believed this was a great place that our staff could do special things.  Without hesitation, I replied, “Yes!”  At that point, a mix of emotions ran through my head.  I knew very little about Rice except it was in Houston, TX and was one of the best academic schools in the world.  Moving to Texas would put me far away from my family that all live in Maryland.  Not to mention, I had an unbelievable family of coaches and players at Radford.  We had been through a lot during the rebuilding of the program. When you go through the struggle like we had experienced, you form a special bond with those around you.

On April 1st, after making the announcement to the team, I boarded a plane in Roanoke, VA and made my way to Houston, TX.  I had been there just one time in my life, which was for the Final Four in 2011; ironically the year VCU was in the Final Four, helping Coach Jones get the Radford job just two months later.  Talking to Coach Rhoades and doing my own research, I realized Rice’s basketball program was in the same position as Radford was three years earlier: 7-23 record, seven scholarship players and a culture of being unsuccessful.

So, here we go again!  I guess life really can repeat itself.  Having the ability to help turn around a program that has been struggling seems to be a well recognized skill in our profession.  It is a difficult process and often tests who you are as a person.  One thing is certain, there ARE NO QUICK FIXES!  Coach Rhoades has consistently stated since arriving at Rice that we are “Building this program to last.” In order to make that happen, we must have a great culture as our foundation.

We have established three core values in our program: Enthusiasm, Appreciation and Toughness.  The first three letters put together spell EAT.  We often hear our youth say, “WE GONNA EAT.”  You will hear that often around our program.  The values are fairly simple, but extremely effective.  You cannot accomplish anything in life without enthusiasm.  We strive to be the most enthusiastic program in the country.  If you have spent anytime around Coach Rhoades, it would be easy to see why his teams practice and play with enthusiasm.  Appreciation is huge in our program as well.  In life, you are not entitled to anything.  We want our players to recognize the tremendous blessings they are experiencing as a college basketball player at an unbelievable institution like Rice.  Finally, we must show a level of toughness in everything we do: physical, mental and emotional toughness. Without toughness, we cannot become a winning basketball program or succeed in life.

I look forward to keeping everyone updated on the progress of our program.  This will not be an overnight process.  But, as I learned at Radford, you must enjoy every step of the process.  The young men in our program have been extremely receptive to the new coaching staff and our high standards.  They have given us tremendous effort since Coach Rhoades took over on March 27th.  Our theme that you will see posted on the Internet and on our t-shirts is, “RiceRising.”  We want our program to improve daily and continue to RISE.  Happy Holidays!!

Coach Byers

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