Black, Byrd end SEC careers

Published 8:00 pm Thursday, March 22, 2012

On the local scene, they were affectionately known as the Twin Towers. During their high school basketball careers, Brookhaven products Nikki Byrd and Swayze Black towered above most  players their age. They made history in 2008 when both players signed SEC scholarships.

     Byrd planned her future with the Ole Miss Lady Rebels. Black elected to stay closer to home and joined the LSU Lady Tigers who are about two hours down the road in Baton Rouge.  Four years have flown by and both young ladies are on track to graduate from their respective institutions of higher learning.

     Now listed at 6-foot-4, both players enjoyed the benefits of playing in the SEC against some of the nation’s best athletes. Byrd was a force  inside for the Lady Rebels. She averaged 11.7 points and a team-best 8.4 rebounds per game..

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     Unfortunately, Byrd was not surrounded by a strong supporting cast. The Lady Rebels, recognized as also-rans inside the SEC, finished 12-18 overall and 2-14 in the SEC this season.

     Ole Miss head coach Renee Ladner said her dream came true five years ago when she was hired to lead the program. Five years later she elected to resign. Ladner’s overall record was 70-82 and she was 23-63 versus SEC foes.

     Byrd is planning a career in criminal justice. During her time in Oxford, she was elected homecoming queen. For sure, she made many friends on campus and Ole Miss always will be dear to her heart.

     Black played on a deeper, more talented LSU team that was recognized on the national scene. She labored as a reserve forward, averaging 1.7 points and 2.2 rebounds per game.

     The Lady Tigers finished this season at 23-11 overall and 10-6 in the SEC. They were a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament and lost in the second round to Penn State, falling 90-80 Tuesday night in the Maravich Assembly Center.

     It was the third straight year for LSU failing to get past the second round. By contrast, many basketball teams would be deliriously happy just making the NCAA field.

     Black is an honor roll student majoring in business administration with an emphasis on sports commerce.

     Certainly, BHS had some good teams when Black and Byrd were dominating the paint. Billy Holmes coached them as sophomores. Freda Craft coached them the next two years.

     Expectations were high as the Lady Panthers entered the state tournament in 2007 and 2008. Unfortunately for BHS fans, Indianola Gentry stood between the Lady Panthers and immortality.

     Led by guard Sarita “Bug” Cooper and center Veronica Walker, the Lady Rams, beat BHS 54-40 in the 2007 championship game. In 2008, Gentry defeated BHS in the semifinals en route to taking the state title again.

     Cooper and Walker both enjoyed great careers at Delta State University. In fact, Walker was the recipient of the C-Spire-sponsored Gillom Trophy, recognizing the best female college basketball player in Mississippi, the last two seasons.

     In recent years, Brookhaven hasn’t had many tall post players who could score and rebound with authority. In fact, the Lady Panthers have been lacking guards who can handle full-court pressure as well.

     Perhaps there are some diamonds in the rough, ready to step up and rekindle that state playoff tradition left behind by Black and Byrd. Looking back for a moment, BHS boasted players like Megan Riebock in 1991, Tracey Wilson in 1994 and Tonya Williams in 1997 and 1998 who were recognized as The DAILY LEADER’s Most Valuable Players on the All-Lincoln County Teams.

     Brookhaven girls basketball used to be fun to watch. The Lady Panthers were a force to be reckoned with in Mississippi and the players were happy to challenge any opponent. They won a lot of games and they smiled a lot, too.


     Area baseball and softball teams are beginning to assert themselves as region action heats up. Believe it or not, the state playoffs are less than a month away for most teams.

     In Class 5A, the Brookhaven Panthers and Lady Panthers are showing playoff -level skills on offense and defense. Coach Chad Walker’s Lady Panthers host Pearl tonight in a pivotal Region 4-5A showdown. Just around the corner is another new region foe, the Ridgeland Lady Titans.

     The Panthers, coached by Randy Spring, are at Pearl next Tuesday. They’ll host the Pirates, Friday, March 30.

     In Class 4A, Lawrence County’s boys and girls should figure in the playoff scene if they continue to improve. North Pike is a powerful force to contend with in softball and baseball.

     In Class 3A, Franklin County and Hazlehurst must be reckoned with in Region 7.

     In Class 2A, Loyd Star’s boys and Wesson’s girls look like the favorites. Coach Jared Britt’s Hornets are playing solid baseball on offense and defense. The Lady Cobras, coached by Jackie Johnson, are leading their division race. They won a big showdown with Loyd Star Tuesday night.

     In Class 1A, Bogue Chitto’s Lady Cats are the 2-time defending state champions in softball. Coach Scott Leggett’s team was hit hard by graduation but many of the younger players are stepping up.

     In the wild baseball race, Bogue Chitto and Cathedral are favored. However, West Lincoln could be a factor. Coach Steve Barrington’s Bears lost a 1-0 decision Tuesday night at Cathedral and a rematch is set for Friday at West Lincoln.

     In District 5-AA, Brookhaven Academy was favored but the Cougars got a jolting wake-up call Tuesday night when they lost 9-0 at ACCS in Natchez.

     Best of all, one game does not make a season. However, every district/region game is critical as the playoffs approach.

     In football news, Ole Brook defensive coordinator Kelby Bowman has accepted an assistant coaching position at Class 6A Madison Central. Bowman, a 1996 BHS graduate, will coach linebackers.

     Bowman also coaches the BHS track team. In January, BHS offensive coordinator Mike Powell accepted the head coaching position at McComb Parklane Academy, his alma mater.

     Ole Brook head coach Wade Henderson must fill two important coaching positions on his staff, hopefully before spring football practice begins late next month.


     Contact sports editor Tom Goetz by Email: