Byrd, Whitt paced Rattlers’ run to 2A Final Four
By Brooke Milam
Tanner High’s boys basketball team marched to a 27-6 record, a sixth straight Limestone County tournament championship, the Class 2A, Area 15 title and a spot in the state semifinals.
So who meant more to that run — the head coach on the sideline, Chris Whitt, or the coach on the floor, senior point guard Rod Byrd?
As for Whitt, he heaps plenty of credit on Byrd, whom he names as one of his most valuable assistants. They guided a talented team through a season that didn’t end until the Rattlers narrowly fell 74-73 to eventual state champion R.C. Hatch.
“Rod’s a guy that when the game is in doubt, you expect him to take over,” Whitt said. “He’s the one that can raise his game to the next level.”
For spearheading one of the state’s best teams this season, Byrd is named The Daily’s Class 1A-3A boys player of the year, and Whitt is The Daily’s Class 1A-3A boys coach of the year.
Several times during their run to the Final Four, the Rattlers needed Byrd to raise his game, and Whitt said Byrd answered the call.
Byrd averaged 13.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.6 steals a game this season, but Whitt said Byrd also provided invaluable direction to his teammates on the court.
Whitt described Byrd as a “vocal leader on floor,” adding that Byrd “would actually be a really good coach.”
“Growing up, my parents always taught me to be a leader,” Byrd said. “I know how well my teammates perform in practice and I knew that I needed to get them the ball to get the job done.
“That’s where the leadership comes in. I felt like I could score when it came down to it, but we’ve got great shooters and great forwards on our team and it was important for me to get the ball to them, too.”
Byrd moved up to the varsity as a freshman and found himself a permanent fixture in the starting lineup as a sophomore.
During Byrd’s three years as a starter, Tanner didn’t lose a single county game. The Rattlers won Limestone County and area championships each season during that time. They went 26-3 his sophomore season, 29-3 when he was a junior and 27-6 this year.
“Most of the success we’ve had is because of him,” Whitt said. “He’s got the skills, but he’s also got the leadership.”
Despite losing three starters off last season’s team that made it to the Northwest Regional, Tanner found itself rolling through the postseason again this year.
“I’ve definitely been blessed with some hard working guys,” said Whitt, who has posted a 293-91 record in his 13 seasons as Tanner’s head coach.
As part of Whitt’s plan for his team to prepare for the postseason, he scheduled tough regular-season competition. The Rattlers’ pumped-up schedule included 6A Austin and Sparkman and 5A Decatur and Athens, among others. Whitt said that his team welcomed the challenge.
“This year we wanted to step it up,” Whitt said. “As soon as I told the team we were playing those schools, they got excited. Not one guy was intimidated or scared this year.”
It proved to be the right move.
Tanner beat Decatur at home 64-61 on Jan. 30, and Byrd directed a second-half rally, finishing with 12 points, four rebounds and five assists.
“That gave our guys some confidence, to know we could beat a team as strong as Decatur,” Whitt said.
Byrd took over the county finals this year as well, scoring eight of his 15 points in the fourth quarter as Tanner pulled away in a 59-41 win over West Limestone.
In the state semifinals, Tanner was up by six points in the fourth quarter when Byrd went to the bench with four fouls. R.C. Hatch mounted a comeback in Byrd’s two-minute absence. When he returned to the court, R.C. Hatch had tied the Rattlers and had the momentum to squeeze out a win.
Whitt said there’s still much more for the program to accomplish, saying this year’s Final Four trip has only renewed the Rattlers’ desire for the ultimate prize.
“These kids see how close we are to the goal of a state championship and it keeps them wanting to get back,” Whitt said.
Byrd has signed a football scholarship with Jacksonville State, but said high school hoops will be hard to leave behind.
“My senior year was the best year we’ve had,” Byrd said. “I’ll miss playing high school games. I love that — I really love that.”
Class 1A-3A boys all-area team
Rod Byrd, Tanner
PhillipPowell, West Morgan
Heath Alford, Falkville
Zane Campbell, West Limestone
Jacob Moody, Speake
Zack Orr, Danville
Demarcus King, Tanner
Quinn McGhee, R.A. Hubbard
Demetrius Garner, Hazlewood
Darren Hand, Hatton
Juarez Fitzgerald, Speake
Player of year:Rod Byrd, Tanner
Coach of year:Chris Whitt, Tanner
Class 1A-3A boys honorable mention
Clements: Cody Arnold.
Decatur Heritage: Nik Butz, Luke Adams and Zach Woodruff.
Elkmont: Tom Logan.
Falkville: Joseph Lacy and Thomas Holt.
Hazlewood: Kerry Jones and Keginald Harris.
R.A. Hubbard: Xavier Hampton and LaDarius Grant.
Speake: Javaris Stover and K.C. Orr.
Tanner: Richard Nasseri and Clay McMeans.
West Morgan: Grant Harbin and David Pritchard.
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