Byrd following in father’s footsteps

When Antone Byrd graduated from Milwaukee Washington High School, top-level schools from across the nation lined up to get him.

A first-team all-state pick his senior year, Byrd drew the attention of Division I programs Baylor, Cincinnati and Texas A&M, to name a few.

Duane (left) and Antone Byrd have both created a legacy during their careers as Warhawks. Duane played from 1983-1986 while Antone is still in his first season. Photo by Matt Gardner

But when he stepped on the UW-Whitewater campus for summer school in 2010, fresh off of a year at Lee Community College in Texas, something clicked.

For the first time in a year, Byrd felt safe. He seemed at home.

Even though multiple offers from bigger schools sat at his doorstep, Byrd decided to become a Warhawk.

The question is why, when there were so many opportunities to play basketball at a nationally recognized university, did Byrd decide to lend his talents to Division III UW-Whitewater?

Look no further than his father, Duane Byrd. Duane was an all-WIAC player for the ’Hawks from 1983-1986 and was a key part of  the 1984 national championship team.

On the court, the two are exactly the same with passion, explosive and competitive spirit unmatched by many of their peers.

“Antone’s fire is definitely from me,” Duane said. “When he steps between the lines he’s me all over.”
Off the court, there is a stark contrast between the two men. Antone described his father as “always running around.”

In fact, Duane literally ran around the world, playing nine years of professional basketball overseas in Portugal. When the pro season concluded, he lived in a different city every offseason.

It was from his father Antone received one of his main personality characteristics: a resistance to change.

While his father was running around the country and the world, it was Antone who enjoyed relaxing.

It is Antone who has the relaxed, chilled-out demeanor, while his father was often seen patrolling the sidelines of his son’s high school games giving his two cents to referees, players and coaches.

Even at the ’Hawks’ 85-68 victory over UW-Eau Claire, Feb. 12, “Big Byrd” was sitting on the sidelines, telling Antone what do whenever he sat down on the bench and giving the refs the business.

Antone said it’s a combination of his mother, Toni Roberts, and his dad who helped him form the different aspects of his character.

“I got my ‘cool’ side from her,” Antone said. “My dad has been my coach my entire life. Off the court, my mom has been more of my mentor. Whenever it came down to basketball, she kind of took a step back and let my dad help me out.”

A long path to UW-Whitewater

Coming out of high school, Antone was one of the highest-touted recruits in Wisconsin. With all the college choices he had at his expense, there seemed to be no way he wouldn’t have ended up a Division I star.

There was one problem, the high-level colleges wanted Antone to redshirt his freshman year.

He wasn’t ready to do that.

Antone ended up making his way to Lee Community College in Bayfield, Texas.

“I just wanted to play,” Antone said. “Now that I think about it, if I could go back to my senior year of high school, I would have chosen to sit out last year at a major D-I. Taking the year off to work on my game would have probably been the better choice.”

It was in Texas Antone started to develop bad habits. Academics began to take a backseat to basketball, even though the first part of “student athlete” is student.

“He just wasn’t taking care of his business academics-wise,” Duane said. “He wasn’t hitting the books.”

Despite the obvious risks associated with a player who could possibly not meet academic requirements, Antone said head coach Pat Miller and assistant coach Todd Skrivseth have made sure he gets his work done.

“They’re always pushing me to get stuff done,” Antone said. “If I’m not in practice or a class, I’m [in the Williams Center] working or in the library.”

Playing with dad

One of the aspects of Duane’s basketball career, he said, is his one-on-one ability. Playing against all sorts of top notch competition, he carved a niche for himself, even after his professional playing days were over.

“I was teasing Tim Hardaway the other day because we played one on one four times and I’m 4-0 against him,” Duane said.

Hardaway was a five-time NBA All-Star and won a gold medal with the U.S. at the 2000 Olympics.

“He won’t ever admit to that though,” Duane said with a laugh.

The pickup games between the two Byrds were even more spectacular than Duane’s games against professionals.

The first time Antone beat his dad was when he was 12-years-old. In the game before his first victory, Antone said his dad jumped over Antone’s head and dunked the ball.

That didn’t deter Antone from beating his dad, and plenty of times since then.

“Ever since that day, it just seems like he can never beat again,” Antone said. “That was the best day of my life, beating my dad. That meant a lot to me. He was almost in his prime, just a little bit out of it.”

The day also marked a significant moment for Antone. He was not “Little Byrd” anymore. He was a man.

He was able to do his own thing from then on.

“Ever since I beat him, I don’t have to listen to him anymore,” Antone said jokingly.

Staying Humble

Something Antone has always wanted for himself is a career in basketball.

Although his father was the main reason Antone started the sport, he did not force the game on his son.

In fact, Duane said Antone was a better football player in middle school.

“He was a very good running back,” Duane said. “But he understood his favorite game was basketball, so he stuck with it.”

Antone definitely has his father’s approval for basketball. Duane said Antone is a better player now than he ever was.

“I know it means a lot, but I know it’s going to take a lot more to be successful playing basketball,” Antone said. “It’s great hearing him say that but I can’t just relax. I have to keep working.”

Once again, just like his father would do.