Baystate Academy Makes Another Run for a Championship
By Kevin McCaskill Jr.
12/10/21 * 4:35 PM
(SPRINGFIELD) - When I walked into Scibelli Gym, the Baystate Academy Bulls were practicing a zone defense. Baystate Academy Head Coach Dion Byrd stopped the practice many times due to the wings and backline not doing their assignment correctly.
Byrd runs practice like an “old school” 🏀 coach: whistle blowing constantly; pointing out every mistake the players make; getting on the court to walk players through the plays and their mistakes; no music.
They moved on to practicing some offensive sets to counteract a zone defense.
The 2021-2022 season will be Coach Byrd’s last season as Head Coach. Coach Byrd and his family have been looking to “relocate” and now that his son is a college-bound Senior, “its the perfect time…to pack up and start…life somewhere else”. He has serious doubts he will ever coach again.
Now that the end is clear, Coach Byrd’s focus is 100% on this season. The Bulls top 3 players are all Seniors: Travis Jordan, Dion Byrd Jr. and RJ Mayfield.
Travis Jordan is a dynamic Guard. He can score anywhere on the court. His best skill is getting in the lane and scoring through contact. He has a good jump shot. During last season, he crossed the 1,000 point milestone. Jordan wants to win a State Championship. “It’s my Senior season, I wanna go all the way”. He also told me in the offseason he worked on his vertical, which is paying off well. I saw him finish multiple dunks, cleanly. He is about 6’, maybe a shade under, so his improvement in athleticism is very important.
Dion Byrd Jr. is a Shooting Guard for the Bulls. He is Baystate’s best 3-pt shooter. He also handles the ball a significant amount of the time. This season, he expects to compete for the Western Mass Championship, that will have a different format and meaning starting this year. Previously, a team had to win their sectional tournament to get in the State Championship. Now, the MIAA is bypassing sectionals in favor of a State Tournament that determines the Champion. All qualifying schools will be eligible. Baystate, for example, could end up playing a first round tournament game in Eastern Mass. The PVIAC will continue the Western Mass Tournament, which will technically be a part of the regular season.
RJ Mayfield is a wiry, athletic Forward. He can finish above the rim. He has good footwork in the lane to get his own shot. He is ready to have a breakout year. Mayfield didn’t play much in the shortened 2020-2021 season. He said that made him feel “a little sad”; he “missed playing basketball”. This season he wants to “win as many games as possible and win the championship; thats the end goal”.
The players stated their lofty but attainable goals. Coach Byrd is being a bit more cautious.
“I think we will be good. We are not looking past anybody. For example, our game on Saturday is the biggest game of the year for us. Then the game on Monday, is the biggest game of the year for us. See where I’m going with that? We just want to get better everyday, every week. We will see where that takes us getting closer to the tournament”.
There are two players you should be aware of on Baystate: Tarreq Evans and Darmari McCrimmon. Evans can shoot and is a dependable player on defense. McCrimmon is Baystate’s tallest player. He has 3-pt range and can attack the basket using his ball handling skills.
In 2020, Baystate was an overtime period away from a Western Mass Championship. In 2022, they are looking for that crown and the State Championship.
Practice on Thursday ended with laps around the gym.
“Just keep running until I say stop” - Coach Byrd