Milwaukee Bucks forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute tries to defend Bulls forward Derrick Byars in a preseason game Saturday. Byars, a Vanderbilt product, has hit 6 of 13 3-point attempts with the Bulls.
There may be no better time for a Vanderbilt graduate to break into the Chicago sports scene.
The Bears might have set an NFL record by using four different starters from Vandy this season - Jay Cutler, Earl Bennett, Chris Williams and Hunter Hillenmeyer. Even former Bulls center Will Perdue, once nicknamed Will Vanderbilt by Michael Jordan, stopped by practice recently to interview Derrick Rose.
Now it's up to former Commodores basketball star Derrick Byars to end his three-year quest of reaching the NBA by making the Bulls' final roster.
It won't be easy.
Because the team payroll is so close to luxury-tax levels, the Bulls plan to keep just 13 players when the regular season begins.
The Bulls haven't ruled out keeping either Byars, a 6-7 sharpshooter, or 6-9 forward Chris Richard into the regular season. If anything, they need an extra big man while Aaron Gray and Jerome James recover from injuries.
"Each year, I've been cut a couple days before opening day," Byars said. "My first year, I was injured. Last year, it was a numbers game. This year, we'll see how it unfolds."
The past two years have been difficult for Byars, being so close to reaching his dream of playing in the NBA but not able to realize it. After averaging 17 points during his senior season at Vanderbilt, Byars was widely projected as a first-round pick and was at Madison Square Garden on the night of the 2007 draft.
But he ended up dropping into the second round. By the time he was chosen No. 42 by Portland, Byars was walking the streets of New York with his family.
"Just wandering the streets with no direction," he said. "It was a really tough day. I felt like the world had turned upside down on me. That was a long time ago, though."
Byars has gone to training camp with the 76ers and Thunder. He spent a year playing in Germany and France, then last season averaged 17.9 points for the Bakersfield Jam in the D-League. Now he's trying to beat the odds and stick with the Bulls.
"My whole background has been about ups and downs, gutting it out, going through hardships to get to my glory," said Byars, who spent two rough years at Virginia before transferring to Vanderbilt. "Everything I do in life, I've earned it. It's still that way right now."
Byars' strength is his outside shot. Through five preseason games, the Memphis native has knocked down 6 of 13 attempts from 3-point range and, in theory, could give the team an extra shooter while providing height in the backcourt.
"I've been very pleased with his effort and production," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. "He's a really nice kid, and you want to see good things happen to kids that work as hard as he has."
What's holding him back? It could be a lack of speed, defense or his all-around game not matching his shooting skill.
"I've heard different things as far as I'm too slow or I'm too fast," he said. "There are a lot of contradictory remarks about me. All I can do is play my game. By now, people should know what I can bring to a team."
Current Bears Williams and Bennett were two of Byars' best friends in college. He's hoping to stay in town long enough to add another member to the Chicago chapter of the Vanderbilt alumni club.