As the son of celebrated sportswriter Ben Byrd, Belmont Coach Rick Byrd brings perspective to the cobra-and-mongoose relationship between sportswriters and coaches.
"That world has changed almost 180 degrees," the younger Byrd said.
His father, a sportswriter and later sports editor with The Knoxville Journal from 1947 until its final issue in 1991, was friends with then Tennessee Coach Ray Mears. It was not unusual for sportswriter, coach and their families to do things together.
"Not nearly best friends," the younger Byrd said, "but friends, and friendly. A lot more than that relationship can be today."
Ben Byrd rode the team charter to and from games.
"He probably knew things that today would get reported," the Belmont coach said of his father. "My dad, he was rarely critical, and he was a talented, gifted writer."
In 1987, Ben Byrd was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. He was named Tennessee Sportswriter of the Year five times.
Rick Byrd accompanied his father to games. "I sat literally under the press table," he said. Two UK-UT games remain vivid in his memory: the Vols beating Rupp's Runts in 1966; and, as a junior varsity player, watching Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld lead UT to a 90-88 overtime victory in Memorial Coliseum.
"One of the most intense, heated, competitive basketball games I've ever seen," he said of the latter.
Saturday's Belmont-Kentucky game might stir those memories.
"I've grown up watching and not always liking Kentucky basketball," Rick Byrd said with a chuckle. "I've always admired Kentucky, but I was against them a lot."
Yes, we can
Willie Cauley-Stein all but promised Kentucky will become the united, cohesive team that Coach John Calipari wants.
"I feel it's going to change real quick because we have no choice," he said. "Cal is going to get it out of us either way. We can either fight it and be miserable, and it's going to get done. Or just accept the fact we're wrong and learn and build on it."
Calipari held out Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as an example for the current Cats to follow.
"(MKG) understood because he didn't shoot the ball well," the UK coach said. "He knew, 'Well, I'm not making a name shooting jumpers. I'm making a name playing defense, rebounding and being vicious.'
"We have some guys, they have to take that on."
One player who apparently is well on the way to vicious is Aaron Harrison.
"He has an edge to him we need everybody to have," Calipari said.
When asked about freshman Derek Willis, Calipari said, "We need to get him in play as a stretch four where he can shoot jumpers."
Alex the great?
Calipari lauded how Alex Poythress performed in Wednesday's practice.
"As good as I've ever seen him," he said. "Not only did he play, he sustained. Normally, he makes one play. Then the next three minutes, 'I'm done.'"
Poythress went from "good to really good to great," Calipari said.
Belmont beat North Carolina 83-80 in a game that saw the Tar Heels make only 22 of 48 free throws.
To simply cite free throws as the reason Belmont won would be to discount the Bruins' competitiveness. "Part of the game of basketball is making free throws," Byrd said, "and they had a bad day. We're not going to beat North Carolina or Kentucky or Duke or anybody if they have a good day."
Byrd noted that Belmont led North Carolina for a majority of the game.
"I felt we played them toe to toe," he said. "We shot the ball well, which we have to do to win against anybody."
Belmont brings a short-handed team and a two-game losing streak to Rupp Arena. The Bruins, who expect to be without point guard Reece Chamberlain (broken hand), lost at South Dakota State and Denver in their two most recent games.
Dave Neal and LaPhonso Ellis will call the game for ESPNU.