April 3, 2009

By Lara Boyko
Special to NCAA.com

Through thick and thin, No. 4 seed Louisville knows there is one person they can rely on – their 5-foot-9 sophomore point guard Deseree’ Byrd.

“They call me ‘The Thick Point Guard.’ I love it because it is said in fun,” said Byrd. “Other point guards will use their quickness as an advantage over me, but I use my thickness as an advantage over them.”

Byrd may not have the physique of your typical point guard, but then again, it is par for the course considering that Byrd had an atypical first love of sports while growing up.

“I was always a Tomboy type and a roughneck and loved everything about football,” said Byrd, who was raised by her aunt after her mother passed away when Byrd was 3-years old. “I begged my aunt to let me play football. She let me play and that is where my heart was. I played quarterback.

“My brother tried to get me more interested in basketball when I was leaning more towards football even though I knew I couldn’t play it all my life, but it was the sport I really liked. When I was 10 or 11 and started to hit puberty is when I realized I had to make the switch to playing basketball.”

Byrd may have fallen into basketball because it was more acceptable for a girl to participate in, but it has been on the basketball court where she is flying high. From her high school days when she was a McDonald’s All-American nominee while playing in Cincinnati to her freshman year at Louisville where she started spread her wings last year as an off guard.

“Last year was very hard,” said Byrd, who started in four games last season and saw playing time in a total of 30. “I thought it would be a breeze, but to adjust to the system, being away from my family and friends and from coming from my high school team where I was a star on the team to being on a college team where everyone was the star of their high school team was a reality check for me.”

Along with the reality check of playing at the college level, Byrd also had her world shaken up a bit with the departure of former coach Tom Collen, who recruited her, and the arrival of current coach Jeff Walz.

“I was a little surprised, but it is a business and I just needed to do what I needed to do,” said Byrd, who ranks second in the Big East in assists (5.1 apg) this season. “I had to work on my attitude as me and coach Walz were not on the same page. Also, my work ethic was not there as I was frustrated and having a hard time adjusting to the new system. I also had to work on my individual game, weaknesses and attitude. Once I got everything down, I think it was easier not just for me, but also for the coaches.”

Making life easier for others is not just Byrd’s role as a point guard, but also her motivation for playing at Louisville.

“It was more convenient for my family to come down here and watch me play whenever they could,” said Byrd. “I wanted to go somewhere close to home and it was just perfect for me to come here. Also, the campus is compact for a large campus and the people were just wonderful. As soon as I stepped on campus, talked to the coaches and got a tour, I knew this is where I wanted to be.”

Now Byrd and her teammates are enjoying some time in the spotlight as one of four teams still playing at this point of the season.

“It’s amazing and a blessing,” said Byrd of playing in the 2009 NCAA Women’s Final Four. “We have worked our tails off to get here as a team and as sisters. It hasn’t been an easy transition for our freshmen as it took a long time for them to catch onto the system. Every since they caught on, it’s been a lot easier and a lot of fun. I think that our having fun while competing in these games as been the most important thing.”

Byrd and her teammates might be flying under the radar this weekend as the lowest seed still playing, but for the quarterback of the Louisville team, the sky is the limit in the program’s first Final Four appearance.

“I am not intimidated at all because on any given day, no matter who you are, you can lose,” said Byrd. “Also, with the losers being one-and-done during this weekend, it comes down to whoever comes out working the hardest is who will win. I think we have this fire in us.”