As often as he makes it over to campus still to support Coastal Carolina in football, basketball, baseball or whatever, former Chanticleers golf standout Zack Byrd said he almost feels as if he never left school.
And now he truly will have a permanent presence at the university.
Byrd and former basketball star Jo Harris were announced Tuesday as the 25th class of inductees into Coastal Carolina’s George F. “Buddy” Sasser Athletics Hall of Fame. The pair will be formally inducted on Nov. 7 before the Chants’ football game with Gardner-Webb.
“I just wasn’t really thinking about it so it kind of caught me off guard. It’s a nice addition to the resume,” Byrd said of initially receiving the news. “... Coastal has always been a part of my life. It’s like I’ve never left. I still consider myself a student because I’m at all the games and I support them as hard as I can. I’m still such a part of Coastal.”
While Byrd, the 2009 Big South Golfer of the Year and a two-time individual medalist at the conference championship, remains among the more passionate ambassadors for Coastal Carolina athletics, Harris is no doubt one of the best success stories in recent Chanticleer lore.
Lightly recruited and undersized as a power forward while being listed at 6-foot-5, 180 pounds during his time in Conway, Harris went on to become the Big South’s all-time leader with 1,152 career rebounds – a record he still owns – and is the only player in conference history with 1,000 career points, 1,000 rebounds, 200 steals, 100 blocked shots and 100 assists.
“I couldn’t have written the story book [better] myself,” Harris said Tuesday, looking back on his collegiate career and this latest honor. “Things happened that I had no idea [would happen], from just playing in an NCAA game, let alone starting and having a pretty good career.”
As Byrd made a point to attest himself, Harris’ time with the Chants was more than pretty good.
“If anybody was a Coastal fan, they remember watching him play. He was pretty special,” Byrd said of his fellow inductee.
Playing from 2005-10, Harris was a star during coach Cliff Ellis’ early years with the program while helping begin an impressive turnaround for the Chants. He was a two-time first-team All-Big South selection for the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, is Coastal Carolina’s career leader in games played (134), field goal percentage (.562) and rebounds and also ranks in the top-10 in scoring (ninth), field goals made (fifth), field goals attempted (10th), free throws made (10th), free throws attempted (fourth), rebounding average (fourth), blocks (second) and steals (second).
He still holds single-game program records for field goals (16) and rebounds (22) and led the Chants in rebounding each of his four seasons.
“He was the epitome of a Coastal Carolina student-athlete,” Ellis said. “First of all, he was a great student, but he’s in the Hall of Fame because he’s a basketball player. ... You can say this about Jo Harris, there was never a time he didn’t give his all. There was never less than 100 percent. That’s what I remember.
“When you put somebody in the Hall of Fame it represents more than being a basketball player. [It’s about] your humanity, what you stand for, making a difference in people’s lives and what you want Coastal Carolina basketball to stand for, and Jo Harris epitomizes that.”
Reflecting back on his recruitment, Harris recalled not really having any offers coming out of high school in Lejeune, N.C., until former Coastal Carolina assistant basketball coach Jamie Kachmarik noticed him at an open gym sort of workout and let then-Chants head coach Buzz Peterson know.
“Buzz Peterson took a chance on me,” Harris said. “[He told me], ‘I need one more guy who does the little things, rebounds, takes charges, runs the floor, sets screens. That was my easiest way to play. ... I just wanted to win. I basically wanted to fit in and do whatever it takes to win, but like every player I wanted to be the best at what I did so as my role grew I continued to take after [the key players that came before] and their work ethic.”
Soon enough, he was the star and a central figure in helping Ellis get the program climbing back toward national relevance.
And his greatest feat of all, perhaps, was leading the Chants to a 28-7 finish during the 2009-10 season – Ellis’ third at the helm – as the program finished with just its second winning record in a span of 16 seasons despite still playing in cramped Kimbel Arena.
“He was involved with turning the basketball atmosphere around because there had been so many mediocre sub-par type seasons and he was on that first 28-win team. He was the leader of that team,” Ellis said. “So [he played a] huge role. ... His leadership was a big key. It set the stage for what we’re doing now.”
All the while, Byrd was making a similar kind of impression on the golf course during some of the peak years for that program.
He was the individual medalist at the Big South championship in 2005 and 2009 and was also recognized as a third-team All-American in 2009 by Golfweek and PING/GCAA.
He still holds the Chants’ program record for lowest single-round score with a 63 at the 2009 Desert Shootout while tying for the second-lowest 54-hole tournament total (201). He ranks third on the program’s all-time list for single-season scoring average (72.58 in 2008-09) and fourth in career scoring average at 73.54.
Byrd said he really hadn’t considered his Hall of Fame chances until his wife brought it up last year while the couple attended the Chants’ football game the day that former Coastal Carolina quarterback Tyler Thigpen was inducted.
“It was funny because my wife asked me last year, ‘Do you think you’ll get inducted?’ I said, ‘You know what, I’ve never really thought about it. I hope so, but I don’t know.’ And I’m in the next class, which is pretty cool,” he said.
Byrd is spending most of this summer playing for PGA Tour Canada and will also play an event or two on the OneAsia Tour in September as well as one or two tournaments in Australia. He’s still considering his options for next year, whether he wants to pursue the PGA Tour’s Qualifying School or try to play on the European Tour.
Either way, he says his motivation is as strong as ever.
“Obviously I’m not satisfied with where I’m at [career-wise], but I feel like I’m working in the right direction, I’m making the right strides to get where I want to go,” Byrd said. “It’s taken a lot longer than I had hoped, but patience is a virtue in this game, I’m learning. I’m going to keep going. I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel.
“But it’s probably going to be another two years of trying to get up to the Web.com Tour and get full status, and if I don’t we may evaluate. I got a college degree for a reason. [But] I’m still enjoying it. I love traveling. I love playing.”
He and Harris seem to have that in common as well.
Since leaving Coastal Carolina, Harris has been well traveled, playing professionally in England, here in Myrtle Beach with the now defunct South Carolina Warriors of the ABA, in Uruguay, Slovakia and Finland before splitting last season between the NBA Development League and a league in Denmark.
The team in Denmark has another month to decide if it wants to retain his rights for next season. If not, he hopes to try to return to the D-League.
“When I first came out, I knew I was undersized so I didn’t even know if I’d be able to make a career out of it at all,” Harris said. “It’s definitely a blessing in itself to do this, play basketball, see the world. I know a lot of my [former] teammates would love to be doing this, so I don’t take it for granted.”
Both Byrd and Harris are hopeful that their busy schedules will allow them to attend that induction ceremony in November.
Either way, their respective places in Chanticleer athletics history are secure.
“It’s pretty easy to be proud of playing at Coastal,” Byrd said. “Not a lot of people really look at us as a big university, but we’re really starting to become one so it makes me look back at where we were and now where we’re at. ...
“[It’s nice] to see what Jo and I helped build because we were part of putting Coastal on the map, so it’s really cool to go into the Hall of Fame together.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318 or on Twitter @RyanYoungTSN.