When former North Montgomery and Purdue University basketball player DJ Byrd checked the schedule of the Kirchheim Knights basketball team, he found a pleasant
His team, which plays in the German Pro A Basketball League, had a break in games from Dec. 22 to Jan. 5. So, he immediately went to his coach and asked permission to go home for the holidays.
Permission was granted, and Byrd purchased his tickets to fly home to be with family and friends.
Byrd said the team’s early success, which he has had a major hand in, made the coach’s decision easier to make. The team is presently in the mix for a playoff spot.
“Our team is having a better season compared to previous years,” Byrd said. “The team has a week off with just a couple of shooting practices. Getting my request approved was helped by the fact we have been playing well.”
Byrd is averaging 13 points-per-game with a personal game high of 28 points. The former Boilermaker is shooting 47 percent from the field and 88 percent from the free throw line. He is also averaging four rebounds per contest.
Byrd is enjoying the experience of playing in Europe even though there are differences than what he is used to in American basketball.
“Playing here is worth it, but it is different,” Byrd said. “There a lot more fouls. For instance, when the opponents have a fast break we are to foul immediately to stop the layup.”
“I am not very good at it,” Byrd added with a chuckle. “Every time I try fouling the guy I get called for an intentional foul, and they are shooting two free throws and getting the ball.”
Byrd, who is hoping to get called up to land a spot with a top league European league, said the competition in his league is comparable to a mid-major program in the States.
“We have good players in our league, but teams are not as good as the top teams in Big Ten,” Byrd said. “The teams in our league with the larger budgets have the most talent.”
Byrd got to see a top German league game recently. Two former Boilermaker teammates, Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer, were playing 40 minutes from Kirchheim so Byrd met up with his friends. The game was the first top level professional game Byrd had a chance to see.
“About a month ago I got to see Keeton and my old roommate, Chris Kramer, play each other,” Byrd said. “Keaton got me tickets, and we had a good time catching up. After watching the game I realized I can play in the top league. I found myself visualizing fitting into the roles of some of their teammates. I came away knowing I could play at the next level.”
Byrd is using his free time in Germany to explore the German countryside as much as possible as well.
“Germany is beautiful, and everything is so environmentally green and clean,” Byrd said. “I have done some traveling. I visited a castle and went to Austria. When we have free time I try to take go out and see as much as I can.”
Two American teammates have helped Byrd make the transition to living in Germany. Bryan Smithson (N.C.- Ashville, ‘08), Benjamin Beran (S. Dakota St., ‘08) and Byrd hang out during free time.
“My American teammates are 28 and 29 years old and it is good to hang out with them,” Byrd said. “They have been welcoming and helped me a lot.”
Since most Germans learn English in school, Byrd said there is no real language barrier.
“I have learned enough German words to get by,” Byrd said. “But, most Germans speak English so that makes living here easier. Our team does a lot with the local basketball clubs and those kids all understand what we are saying.”
Byrd plans on returning to Germany on Thursday. While home, Byrd has worked out at the local Park and Recreation and hoped to work out with North Montgomery’s team with his cousin Grant Gayler, who is the Chargers’ leading scorer.
Byrd said it has been good to be with family during the holidays. He is able to keep in touch with his family via the internet and pays close attention to his sister, Kelsi, who is a freshman basketball player at IUPUI.
“I have been able to watch Kelsi play some games on the internet,” Byrd said. “She is doing great, and we keep in touch online.”
As for the future, Byrd is hoping to keep moving up the rung of the professional basketball world.
“Our playoffs run into April,” Byrd said. “Teams interested in me cannot talk to me until our last game. I will keep working hard and see what happens.”