Byrd's career is fascinating mostly because of his rabid fan support. It appears this happened for three main reasons: his recruiting profile, his injury history, and his last name. These three factors made him entirely relatable and identifiable despite the fact that he wasn't very good. And by not very good, I mean that he never posted an offensive rating above 100 for a season. He was a sharpshooter that never shot above 30% from 3-point range.
The strange thing about the hype associated with Byrd is that it sort of built up over time. After his commitment as a skinny shooter, he put on a bunch of muscle and seemed like a monster in waiting. The lingering foot injury gave everyone the ability to wonder, "Is he finally healthy?" When he was voted co-captain before the '12-'13 season, that seemed like a sign he was about to give us the 3-point barrage we'd been waiting for. As other injuries accumulated in the '13-14 season, it was possible he could be one to step up. Then he gave us his defining moment as a Spartan: a three-pointer in OT against #15 Iowa to give MSU a 6 point lead it would never relinquish.
Unfortunately, this hype probably ended Byrd's career at MSU. What would have happened if the Breslin didn't always collectively hold its breath when he touched the ball offensively? If the students in the Izzone didn't flap their arms when he entered the game? Would he have been able to let the monkey off of his back and live up to his potential? It is fitting that his clutch three happened on the road.
Those questions sort of presume that the answer is yes. But buried in the Graham Couch article is a nugget about Alex Gauna possibly retiring, as well. Gauna is an interesting comparison because he was part of the same recruiting class and has had an equally frustrating career, but is not nearly as relatable or identifiable as Byrd. We have never been sure what Gauna should be; the best anyone can muster is a poor man's Goran Suton. That hasn't happened, but by any metric Gauna is actually a more effective player than Byrd:
Regardless of this comparison, Byrd was fun to root for and the end of his Michigan State career is a downer. We will miss you, Russell. But I think you're better off without us.