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Byrd ready to become leader of Boilermakers

– D.J. Byrd has played alongside All-Americans and he’s played alongside first-team All-Big Ten players.

The Purdue guard/forward is taking what he’s gathered from those experiences into his senior season.

“I’ve been through a lot. I’ve been a lot of places. I’ve met a lot of people. I’ve made a lot of friends,” Byrd said last month at Big Ten media day. “In terms of basketball, I’ve learned a lot. Whether it’s from Chris Kramer coming in as a freshman, Keaton Grant, those guys. And then being able to watch JaJuan (Johnson), E’Twaun (Moore) and Rob (Hummel), all those guys improve to All-American status. It’s been a great run for me.

“It’s my last year around. I’m going to do as much of the things that I’ve learned from them to try to make it a great year.”

Byrd was voted the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year last season. He was the first Boilermaker to receive the award. The 6-foot-5 Crawfordsville native is expected to fill a larger role this season.

“There’s no doubt we’ll run more stuff for him,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said at Purdue media day. “In the past, we didn’t run as much stuff for him just because we had guys like E’Twaun, JaJuan and Rob that we ran stuff for.”

Byrd has started fast, according to Painter. The coach said Byrd has been “unbelievable” in practice.

Byrd averaged 8.9 points and 2.3 rebounds in 2011-12. Byrd ranked eighth in the Big Ten in three-point field goals per game (2) and ninth in three-point field goal percentage (.430) on the way to making the All-Big Ten honorable mention list.

He reached double figures in scoring 16 times last season, including three performances of at least 20 points.

“Being able to get open and get a good shot is the big thing for me,” Byrd said. “My percentages go up when I can get a good shot. Being able to work off screens and get myself in physical shape to do that for an entire game is my goal. Being able to take care of the ball, defend, rebound, those are always constant.”

Byrd, along with Terone Johnson, has taken on the role of a team leader.

“He brings everything to the team,” Johnson said. “He’s a scorer. He can play defense. He can rebound. Me and him have stepped into that leadership role and he’s been great with that. He’s bringing energy to practice. He’s working harder than a lot of people. That’s a good thing for those freshmen to look up to.”

Byrd is ready for all the role has in store.

“It’s a lot of work, but you try to do what’s best for your team,” Byrd said. “It’s being there for the young guys, really helping them out. Being vocal and leading by example is really important. The faster you can get young guys to really mature and really understand and get everybody going in the same direction, the real improvements start. I think we’ve done a really good job of that so far.”

lpope@jg.net

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