July 7, 2009

Byrd battling injury at Lebron James Academy

AKRON, Ohio - Michigan State basketball commitment Russell Byrd was hoping to continue his mid-summer hot streak at this week's Lebron James Skills Academy. However, that was put on hold when he aggravated a sore knee ligament, Monday night on Day 2 of the camp.

Byrd injured the knee at the camp on Sunday.

"I hyper-extended it," he said. "I thought it was pretty serious. It popped."

He was relieved to learn that the injury was merely a sprained medial collateral ligament but missed most of Sunday's action. NIKE's medical staff okayed him to play on Monday. However, he aggravated the ligament during Monday's evening scrimmaging while executing a pump fake.

"I should have just shot it," he said afterward.

Probably so. Just moments before aggravating the knee, Byrd nailed two nice transition 3-pointers from the right wing, living up to the hot reputation he formed for himself at the NBA Players Association Top 100 camp in June. Byrd was the top 3-point shooter at that event, and went 5-of-6 from long range in the camp's title game.

Byrd scored six points in the scrimmage. His 3-pointers gave his team leads of 25-22 and 28-22, late in the first half.

When Byrd aggravated the knee on Monday night, he stopped abruptly, and bent over in pain. He did not fall to the floor. His camp coach immediately pulled him off the floor as a precaution. Byrd went straight to the training table to ice his right knee.

He stayed on the bench and watched the rest of the scrimmage intently. He walked with a limp after the game, but the limp had dissipated a few minutes later during interviews.

Byrd said he will not play on Tuesday but plans to be back on Wednesday when the camp moves to Cleveland for the King City Classic.


It has been three years since NIKE rebranded its top summer camp, moving it from Indianapolis to Akron, and changing the name of it from the NIKE All-America Camp to the Lebron James Skills Academy. This is the first year that coaches have not been allowed to attend.

The number of attendees has been lowered from nearly 300 in the late 1990s to fewer than 90. There is more emphasis on drills and station work. There are loose scrimmages instead of "league" games, and no permanent teams.

Officials say teams will be selected for more traditional games when the camp moves to Cleveland on Wednesday. College coaches will be able to watch action in Cleveland.


There are three players of interest to Michigan State's recruiting fortunes at the Lebron Academy: Byrd, post player Adreian Payne, and combo wing Trey Zeigler.

Payne and Byrd were assigned to play on the same team during Monday night's scrimmaging, at the University of Akron's Rhoads Arena. Zeigler played across the street at the university's intramural building.

In past years, when the camp was bigger, Payne, Byrd and Zeigler might have played in three different "leagues" at staggered times. But these days, all of the players play simultaneously, making it harder to keep tabs on all of them. SpartanMag.com was unable to watch Zeigler's game on Monday night.

Detroit Country Day point guard Ray McCallum joins as Zeigler as the lone Michiganders at the event.


During Monday's scrimmaging, Payne matched up against big-bodied battler Jared Sullinger. Sullinger (6-8, 260, Ohio State commitment) is ranked the No. 3 player in the nation by Rivals.com and happens to be AAU teammates with Payne on All-Ohio Red.

Payne (6-10, 215 of Dayton Jefferson High School) is ranked No. 20 by Rivals.com.

SpartanMag.com unofficially had Payne with five points and Sullinger with four in a game that scored in the low 40s. Payne's team came away with a single-digit victory.

Payne played with excellent energy early, finishing an alley-oop in transition. His put-back gave his team a 10-1 lead.

Later, he missed a 3-pointer, but got his own rebound and was fouled while going up strong. He made 1-of-2 free throws.

Payne finished with five rebounds and seemed to get the better of Sullinger on the boards.

Sullinger was tough and aggressive on offense, in the post. He got good position on Payne, but missed a shot in the post against Payne early in the game. Later, he drew a foul on Payne while missing in the post; Payne disagreed with the call. Sullinger missed both foul shots.

Sullinger scored with a nice hook over Payne.

Later, Sullinger faced up and drove hard down the lane toward Payne. Payne didn't shy away from contact and created a massive collision while trying to draw a charge. The officials called Payne for a blocking foul. He smilingly disagreed.

The next time downcourt, Payne got up farther in Sullinger's grill, showing no interest in backing down. However, Payne played with a limp at times.

"That's a hip flexor injury that's I've had for a while," Payne said. "It bothered me a little bit during the (winter) season, but it's bothering me more now."

Payne has taken unofficial visits to Kentucky, Michigan State, Xavier and Dayton. He says he may visit the University of Florida in August when his AAU team is in that part of the country.

During his visit to East Lansing, he said he sat down with Tom Izzo in the head coach's office and discussed goals, academics and other matters.

"Me and him sat down and had a talk," Payne said. "I don't usually talk a lot. I just listen and take everything in. But it went good. They were on my list, and then I got to visit them, got to know them and it made everything better."

He met with new Kentucky head coach John Calipari during his visit to Kentucky.

"It went good," he said. "We toured the building. The history there is pretty good, too."

He indicated that Dayton, with former MSU assistant coach Brian Gregory at the helm, is probably recruiting him the hardest.

"He's a pretty good guy," Payne said. "My grandma likes him a lot."

Payne plays open gym at Dayton on a regular basis.

"They are involved a lot," Payne said. "They see me whenever they can."

His cousin, Chris Wright, stars for the Flyers.

"He's downstairs right now (playing with the college counselors)," Payne said. "We talk a lot. He's strong. I have been guarding him from my freshman year on up, but he keeps getting bigger and stronger."

Payne said he plans to make a decision prior to his senior season.

"It won't be easy," he said.

He said he plans to take official visits in the fall but he has not yet scheduled any.

"I don't want to say which schools I'm planning to visit," he said with a smile. "I know but I'm not telling."

Michigan State has commitments from Byrd, 6-foot-9 post player Alex Gauna and superstar point guard Keith Appling for the class of 2010. The Spartans already have a good class, but there is room for one more player, if it's the right player. They are pursuing Payne, Zeigler and Grand Ledge post player Jon Horford. The Spartans would be ecstatic with any of the three, yet would be satisfied with the recruiting year as a whole if they miss out on Payne, Zeigler and Horford and bank the scholarship for next year.

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