Wherever it came from, SDSU true freshman guard Miles Byrd has “it.” What created Byrd’s uncanny feel for the game of basketball? A case can be made for either position in the age-old “nature vs. nurture” debate.
Byrd’s bloodlines are impressive. His father, Calvin Byrd, was a McDonald’s All-American in 1989. Calvin teamed with future NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal in a 112-103 victory for the West. After four years at Villanova, he played professionally in the US and Switzerland. Genetics certainly factors into Miles’ acumen on the court.
“Obviously, you can improve a guy’s feel,” Calvin Byrd told EVT. “You can improve guys’ decision-making, but you’ve got to have it. You’ve got to have something (to work with).”
On the other hand, there is also a strong argument for “nurture.” Calvin leveraged his playing days into a coaching career. He spent 18 years at the Division I level, first at UC Irvine, then San Francisco, Pacific, Loyola Marymount, and another stint with Pacific. During his first tenure with the Tigers, his son was born.
“It was a blessing,” Miles Byrd told EVT in an exclusive interview. “I’m looking at these guys, ‘Oh my God, they’re huge.’ I’m a four-year-old kid, and I’m seeing a bunch of Division I kids in (my home). Of course, it’s blowing me away. Now that I’m actually at that level, it’s a little bit different. As a kid, I looked up to guys like that. It was fortunate for me that I was able to have a relationship with them, being able to talk with them about their playing style, stuff like that.”
Both men fondly remember the enjoyment four-year-old Miles took using Whoopee Cushions to sabotage the chairs of players over for dinner. When Calvin developed athletes on one side of the gym, Miles was there on the other side, mimicking the drills being taught. Current Aztecs’ assistant JayDee Luster, the Byrd’s neighbor when Luster coached for Pacific, was among the village of basketball experts Miles grew up around.
Could what appears to be innate in the younger Byrd – knowing when teammates are going to break open, how and when to push the ball in transition, sensing where to be on defense – have been picked up in the thousands of interactions with the people he came in contact with through his father?
“My dad was a Division I coach for 18 years; since I was literally able to talk, I have been around Division I basketball,” Miles explained. “I’ve had connections with Division I players. They’re my ‘big bros,’ you could say. I think that’s where I get my feel from just being around the game.”
While the genesis of Miles’ intuition on the court remains unsettled, the origins of the elite skill he possesses is much clearer. Miles stands 6’7 with a 7’0 wingspan. To take advantage of his feel and athleticism, numerous programs recruited him as a point guard. He will play this season as a shooting guard and small forward, but Luster thinks that he will eventually run the point for the Aztecs. Even taking these God-given advantages into account, Miles’ skill is decidedly due to hard work and the nurturing he received from his father.
At San Francisco, Calvin coached under Rex Walters. Walters and his staff developed all of their players to pass, handle, and shoot at high levels. Calvin used that expertise and the techniques he learned in his decades of playing and coaching and instilled them in his son.
“He’s a really smart, skilled, multi-position guy, can play the one, two, or three,” Calvin said, describing his son. “His number one thing is just his skill. His passing ability, his ball handling, and being a shooter. That’s the things we’ve always worked on. ….One of the things I wanted is for Miles to be a pass, handle, shoot guy. … I’m proud of him. He’s done a good job. ”
Despite signs of his elite status emerging early in high school, Miles did not have any offers until May 2020. Covid took away all but eight games of his junior season. While the pandemic prevented him from getting more publicity, it also was the best thing that could have happened for his game.
Like most families, the Byrd’s spent Covid in quarantine together. Miles just happens to live with a world-class basketball skill developer. Calvin moved their home basket from their narrow backyard to a more spacious area in the front of the house, and they went to work. Nurture wins.
“(The pandemic), some people look at it as a negative, but (it) was kind of a positive for me,” Miles Byrd explained. “Of course, minus the health issues for everybody else, but the time off, being able to just be with my family, it was a huge positive in that sense. I was able to go out front with my dad every day, whether it was one hour, two hours, or three hours. I was able to work out by myself, just really be in my own mind.”
“I hate saying it because it hurt a lot of people, and it’s still hurting people, but … we worked out a lot during Covid,” Calvin said. “We got a lot of shots up. That helped him because he really focused on the development part and not necessarily on the playing part. … We did a lot of dribble pull-ups. We did a lot of ball-handling stuff. His game did get better during that Covid break for sure.”
The improvement in Miles’ game was evident immediately. The 172nd-ranked player in the country in November of 2020, according to 247 Sports, Miles reached number 100 in June of 2021. He climbed all the way to 55 overall in their final rankings of the Class of 2022.
The pandemic sessions also helped Miles fully accept Calvin’s training. The young guard admitted that, at times, he was immature and only wanted his dad to tell him what he did well. Though they had watched tape together for years, their film study jumped to a whole different level in Miles’ senior year.
Following the Covid workouts, he looked forward to studying with his dad. After many of the games during his final high school season, he would get something to eat with his friends before heading home. Beginning around 11:00 pm, the Byrd men would dissect that night’s contest. Calvin treated his son like he would any of his college players. Mistakes and areas of improvement were emphasized along with the positive.
For many college freshmen, it takes time to acclimate to the routine of going to practice, watching film of that practice, and then implementing the lessons from the film sessions at the next dress rehearsal. Due to the tutelage he received from Calvin, Miles arrived at SDSU with this skill already in his toolbox.
There is an adjustment period for every freshman entering college. Miles was no different. Often, it takes children with tremendous support at home longer to navigate the learning curve of independence. Miles’ unique upbringing, though, provided him with another advantage.
He has been around basketball his whole life. On road trips, through informal conversations with players, and in a myriad of other ways, he learned what college basketball is about. He used this knowledge when choosing to play at SDSU.
The Aztecs, unlike other schools, made sure he had a relationship not only with Dave Velasquez, his lead recruiter but with the entire coaching staff. In contrast, a school that was among Miles’ finalists only had one coach make the effort to build a connection with the family.
Miles and Calvin picked up on that difference. They knew Miles was walking into a special culture at SDSU, and it has exceeded their high expectations.
On Friday, October 14, the basketball team went to the Padres vs. Dodgers playoff game. Miles played baseball growing up. A JC head coach, who is close to the family, said Miles possessed a “million dollar” southpaw arm. His passion steered him to basketball, but the chance to see a playoff game in person was a great experience.
Miles said the team spent the entire night talking with fans who came up and spoke about their excitement for the Aztecs’ season. Based in northern California, Miles followed the Giants growing up. He is now a Padres fan.
“My relationship with my teammates,” Miles replied when asked what the best part of his college experience has been so far. “It’s really special. I’ve been on teams where we connected really well. But I have never been on a team where we just spent two hours going to war with each other, and then, we’re in the locker room for an hour just straight laughs and straight jokes and straight debates on who the best NBA player is, stuff like that. We really get along. We all love each other. We all got each other’s back.”
Beyond the coaching staff and his teammates, SDSU has been a great help for Miles off the court. Like an entire generation of students, Miles’ enthusiasm for school waned due to online classes mandated during the pandemic. He is very intelligent and held offers from Ivy League schools, but he admitted that starting college was a challenge academically. With the support of Learning Specialist/Academic Advisor Kelli Magaral, he has adjusted well after the initial shock.
“I definitely got socked in the mouth early with college academics just staying on top of it,” Miles admitted. “I work with Kelli, our academic advisor, all the time. She’s really like a mother out here for us. We don’t have any San Diego kids, so she’s really our mom away from home. She treats us like we’re her sons, but she also holds us accountable. She’s made it a lot easier.”
Miles Byrd’s fit with the Aztecs
Even on a team as deep as SDSU, it is not difficult to imagine a place for Miles this season. The Aztecs have numerous players who can star for them. What they potentially lack is someone other than their point guards to get everyone set up and working together. Miles’ best ability right now is as a passer, and that skill is what the Aztecs need to function as a team.
If Darrion Trammell and Lamont Butler start together, there will be a need for playmaking ability with the second or third units. This would be a perfect place for Miles to step in and keep the Aztecs elite for the entire 40 minutes.
The area Miles needs to improve in is to add strength. He only turned 18 in September and is younger than many 2023 high school seniors. He has always possessed a slight frame and still excelled on the floor. His present adjustment is figuring out how to use his length and high IQ on a higher level to compensate for what he lacks in bulk.
Like Kawhi Leonard, who was open about only playing a few years at SDSU before pursuing a professional career, Miles said if everything goes well he will not exhaust his eligibility with the Aztecs. Given this goal, a redshirt season is unlikely, and Miles will be battling for inclusion in Brian Dutcher’s rotation all year.
As the 55th best recruit in the country – two spots higher than Leonard – Miles impacting the Aztecs this year will come as no surprise. When he does, the story of being a coach’s son will be retold.
No matter where Miles’ career takes him – even if it ends with multiple NBA titles, his jersey hanging in the rafters, or even inclusion in the Hall of Fame – basketball has already given him its greatest gift: the beautiful relationship with his father.