Find a teenage boys basketball player and ask him who his favorite player is and you’re likely going to get the name of current NBA star. Like LeBron James. Or Steph Curry. Or Kevin Durant. Or Kawhi Leonard.
For McCaskey High School incoming freshman point guard Jonathan Byrd, there are two names that come to mind when posed this question.
“My favorite point guard is Chris Paul,” Byrd said. “And I like Tiny Archibald. You know who that is?”
Most of Byrd’s friends probably couldn’t answer that question about Nate “Tiny” Archibald, who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991 following a 14-year professional career that began in 1970 and included seven NBA all-star sections. Archibald also won an NBA championship with the Boston Celtics alongside an NBA legend with a similarly sounding last name as Byrd’s.
Though the 14-year-old Byrd admitted he didn’t know who Archibald was up until a month ago, when he was invited to a tryout in Bryn Mawr. It’s there Byrd was selected as one of 13 players that made up a Best of Philly team that competed in a one-day showcase event against a Best of New York team in Harlem, New York, earlier this month.
In attendance was Archibald, a New York native who helped organize the event he helped make popular back in his prep days in the 1960s.
Getting his shot
According to reports in the Philadelphia Tribune, there was a time when Philadelphia stars such as Wilt Chamberlain, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and others would travel north to play the best that New York had to offer with players such as Archibald, Lenny Wilkens and Lew Alcindor, who would change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The annual contest eventually dissolved before being brought back this year in the form of two games, one made up of players 13 and under, and another made up players 15 and under.
“I got a call from a friend of mine that one of the organizers who was looking for kids and were looking for him (Jonathan),” said Bryant Byrd Sr., Jonathan’s father. “They called me and asked me if he (Jonathan) could come to a tryout in Philly.”
That prospect isn’t much of a surprise to those who have seen Byrd play.
Last winter, Byrd was the only eighth-grader on McCaskey’s freshmen team, tallying 130-plus assists to only four turnovers as the starting point guard on a baby-faced bunch that went 15-1.
“I previously coached freshmen basketball at Downingtown for 20 years,” said Mike Korom, who was McCaskey’s new freshman boys basketball coach last season. “And Jon is as good a point guard as I’ve ever coached. And being an eighth-grader, it didn’t rile him at all playing against freshmen. He has a knack for knowing where everyone is on the court, he’s unselfish on moving the ball around, and he’s a good offensive and a good defensive player.”
Byrd competes over the summer on a recreation team coached by his father and made up players from Lancaster City. The team plays most of its games in the CJ’s Hoop For Hope nonprofit program at the city’s Brandon Park.
But it also plays in tournaments elsewhere, like the one in Harrisburg last year where Byrd performed so well that coaches on the Harrisburg Baby Cougars summer team invited him to come play for them last summer in a Junior NBA regional tournament in King of Prussia.
In other words, Byrd is pretty good at this basketball thing. It runs in the family.
Working at his craft
Byrd’s father was a point guard for McCaskey in the late 1980s and for Millersville University in the early 1990s. His older brother, Bryant Byrd Jr., played for McCaskey in the late 2000s alongside future NBA player Lamar Patterson.
Byrd credits a lot of his success to his father, who he says has helped him develop his court vision and instill in him a work ethic that’s been molded over the years at 6 a.m. practices inside the Bright Side Baptist Church gymnasium every Saturday morning.
“I know I got to get in the gym and get my work done,” Bryd said. “Because after that, I can do whatever I want.”
And what about the Best of Philly vs. Best of New York game in Harlem? How did Byrd perform?
“When I got in the game, I did what I usually do,” he said. “I had three assists in a minute. Then I sat back on the bench. Second quarter I came back in, got a couple more assists then came out.”
The Best of Philly team won by 16 points. Afterward, Archibald spoke to the team. And he gained a new fan in Byrd.
“He (Archibald) just told us to work hard, don’t get into violence and stuff like that,” Byrd said. “Don’t be running around the streets. Stay humble.”