Russell Byrd announced that he will not be returning to Michigan State next year. He will spend his final year of eligibility at Master’s College in California, according to the Detroit Free Press. Byrd was a highly recruited shooter in high school, garnering interest from high profile programs like Kentucky, as well as Michigan State.
According to MSU head coach Tom Izzo, Alex Gauna has decided to retire from basketball and spend his final year at MSU focusing on his education. Gauna was a three-star recruit, but was one of those players that many people thought could develop into a successful Division-I player under the tutelage of Izzo.
Yet, when this news came out, I could not help but ask myself, “So?”
As their careers progressed for different reasons, these guys came up short of the expectations that followed them to East Lansing.
On a personal level, I feel for them. Nobody wants to give up their dream of playing for an elite Division-I school. Byrd just could not battle through his injuries, and Gauna never looked comfortable on the floor.
I thought about saying that they should have left before last season, but they had to comeback. They had a chance to be a part of a championship team. And with the departure of Derrick Nix, Gauna had a real chance to be a part of the regular rotation.
However, after watching Gauna go from seventh or eighth off the bench to filling in during blowouts, it was clear that his time here was limited.
As for Byrd, he was the guy you were just waiting for to turn it on. When he hit the three-pointer against Iowa to seal that game, I hoped that it would be the spark he needed to get his head straight. It never materialized.
Removing the human element and focusing on just the sport side of it, one realizes that these guys had no other choice. With the pure athleticism and promise of Alvin Ellis III and the return of Brandon Dawson, the odds of Byrd and Gauna seeing much time this year was unlikely.
My question remains, MSU lost two guys who showed promise early in their careers, one of whom was a captain for a season. Does it really matter?
In a word, no. They might miss Byrd’s leadership and he was an awesome personality in the locker room and on the bench. But late last year, he started to remind me of the back-up quarterback from the show Blue Mountain State. He loved his team and wanted to see them do well, but seemed content to remain on the sidelines and avoid further Twitter abuse.
Gauna seemed to disconnect from the team when he got moved to the end of the bench. When he got his time, he worked hard, but he never seemed to find his place on the court.
I wish these two the best in their future endeavors away from MSU basketball, but I think the Spartans will be just fine after their departures.
Andrew Hayes is the host of Impact Izzone for Impact Sports.
Photo: Scott Wasserman/Impact Sports