Throughout this past season, many Michigan State fans got used to seeing the redheaded Russell Byrd pop onto the court and make some key plays, adding a key contribution to the team's success. On Wednesday, Byrd announced his decision to fly to coop and leave the Spartans, opting to transfer to Master's College, a Christian liberal arts school 30 miles northeast of Los Angeles and his parents' alma mater, for his final season of NCAA eligibility.
The move came as a surprise to many, and the 6-foot-7, Fort Wayne, Indiana native Byrd claims that he hasn't made the decision without some regrets, but instead opted for the move to help ensure the success of a future basketball career overseas in Europe.
The Master's plays under the sign of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), rather than the NCAA. Many compare the level of competition in the NAIA as the equivalent to low Division I play.
Byrd plans to move to California with his fiancee in former MSU women's basketball player Klarissa Bell. The two plan to wed on a beach in Ludington on June 15.
While Byrd doesn't exactly say that he was unhappy at Michigan State, he clearly identifies some sour emotions that arose during his time in East Lansing.
"I get out (to California), I'm away from the negativity that's always in the back of my mind," Byrd said. "I'm away from my own doubt.
"I feel like, sometimes when I'm at the gym or Breslin, I doubt myself because of just not living up to the hype and failing in games, and not performing through a bunch of negative media. That's been hard for me, it really has. People say just don't read it or just don't listen to it; that's hard to do. So I'm away from it, I'm more free and can just play basketball."
Michigan State, being one of the top programs in the country, has much of the national spotlight on their team throughout the year. Pressure for success as a Spartan is incredible and many times different players react to the stress differently.
"I always wanted to figure that out here," Byrd said of playing for MSU. "I always wanted to conquer it and perform and be the player I could be, and I could never quite figure it out."
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo knows all too well the weight upon many of his player's shoulders. Though Byrd was often cheered on throughout his three years as a Spartan whenever he made a shot on the court, it feels like it just wasn't enough at times and Izzo might have regrets about the mere 526 career minutes Byrd got to play while wearing the green and white.
"I'm telling you, the kid was a helluva player. He could shoot it. I mean, I loved him in high school," Izzo said. "He hurt that (left foot) right toward the end of his senior year … and he just never was, at all, the guy I recruited. He was a really good athlete."
Though he could have returned to East Lansing in the fall as a fifth-year senior, Byrd admits that he thought of the 2013-14 season as a "last chance" to become the kind of player that he wanted to be, and he not only let himself down, but his coach, too.
"They're great players at Michigan State, there are pros. You can't just walk in the gym and play 35 minutes a game," Byrd said. "Even going into this year, (Izzo and I) thought maybe this season would be the last chance to kind of salvage things and see what happened. And I just didn't perform. I just didn't come through."
"I wanted to go to a place that was going to provide me with an opportunity to guarantee myself 30, 35 minutes a game, so I can get back to the player I was and can be. It's hard not playing at all."
You can follow MSU writer, Michael Ferro, at twitter.com/MichaelFerro.