Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Neltner, Byars Share Unique Bond

“Ross Neltner sucks!”

– Posted Jan. 19, 2006, by LSUDeek on

The disparaging remarks cast in the void of cyberspace do not bother Ross Neltner much these days. Now that his sixth-seed Vanderbilt squad has scrapped its way to the Sweet 16, the junior forward could really care less about what some Tiger Rag had to say about his decision to transfer from LSU two seasons ago.

“We miss Ross Neltner.”

– Posted Feb. 3, 2007, by SlowFlowPro on

Sentiment has changed now as the Commodores prepare for their upcoming rematch with Georgetown and a shot at capturing their first-ever trip to the Elite Eight in East Rutherford, N.J., while Tiger fans are home in Baton Rouge, counting down the days until football season, wishing they had the junior forward back.

“I just laugh at that – it’s pretty much what I expected. It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Neltner says of the conflicting talk board messages. “Fans are fickle in general. When I transferred, and [LSU was] going to the Final Four, they were like `Screw Neltner, he’s an idiot, we didn’t need him anyway,’ and now it’s like, “Oh man, we could use another guy to stretch the defense.'”

During the 2006-07 campaign, Neltner has teamed with SEC player of the year and University of Virginia transfer Derrick Byars to add a dangerous double shot of talent to the Vandy lineup. Byars and Neltner, who combine to average over 26 points per game, have flourished on their shared second college campus, much to the delight of Commodore Head Coach Kevin Stallings – and the chagrin of fans in Charlottesville, Va. and Baton Rouge, La.

“I think that sometimes, the second time around, you have that experience and you have the knowledge of what did and what didn’t work,” Stallings says of his talented transfers.

“Those guys, having experiences of their own, have more of an appreciation of what goes on here, and therefore that allows them to have a better experience on the court as well.”

Neltner’s and Byars’ perspectives served Stalling’s squad well early in the season, when the Commodores dropped games to lesser opponents like Furman and Appalachian State. Spurred on by their past experiences, Neltner and Byars took the sour lemon taste left by the disappointing early-season flops and made sweet lemonade with the rest of their season, defeating SEC power Kentucky twice and upsetting top-ranked Florida 83-70 on Feb.17.

Thanks in part to a rigorous summer workout program, Byars nailed an astronomical 69 treys in 2007 and saw his name skyrocket on NBA draft boards. He sank five threes and poured in 27 points in Vandy’s thrilling double-overtime victory over Washington State last weekend to advance to the round of 16.

“Derrick’s talent has always been obvious, but I think the light kind of went on for him really starting with our conference season,” Stallings says. “I think the consistency is what changed. His consistency has really turned a corner.”

Neltner has provided a steady nine-point, five-rebound average after spending last season in a suit on the bench due to NCAA transfer rules. The 6-foot-9, 240 pound forward has found a home in emorial Gymnasium, where Stallings has transformed Commodore hoops from SEC doormat to conference power.

While the two Commodore starters have blended harmoniously in the Music City, Neltner and Byars’ paths to Vandy are as different as bluegrass and gangsta rap. Stallings was among the droves of college coaches who vied for Byars’ services after the 6-foot-7 smooth-as-silk swingman led Memphis’ Ridgeway High School to the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association state crown in 2002.

Byars committed to the Cavaliers a week before his scheduled recruiting visit to Nashville, but after two seasons spent in and out of former Virginia Head Coach Pete Gillen’s doghouse, the former Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year decided it was time for a change. With a full roster, Stallings had no scholarship to offer the player he had so badly coveted two years before, but just before Byars was to announce his plans to attend Ole Miss, Vanderbilt bench player Adam Payton decided to leave the team, opening up a spot for Byars. A year later, Byars welcomed Neltner, who had spent two seasons bogged down on the Bayou, to Nashville.

“Derrick’s situation was very different from mine. He was starting a lot of games his freshman and sophomore years, and then the coach pulled him out of the starting lineup and didn’t play him as much, and he didn’t respond well to that,” Neltner says. “With me, I knew I could compete with those guys at LSU, but I was just looking for a better opportunity. Coach Brady and I never had any cross words, and he didn’t chase me away by any means.”

Neltner, a former Kentucky Mr. Basketball, chose the Tigers in 2003 over Florida, Illinois and Michigan. On a team dominated by the star power of junior Glen Davis and 2004 SEC player of the year Brendan Bass, Neltner felt he could better serve another school with his soft shooting touch and precise passing ability.

“I’ve found a better place in terms of what I feel I bring to the game,” Neltner says. “LSU has a lot of athletic, high-flying guys that can create their own shot, and I don’t want to call them selfish, but I like playing with guys that can pass and shoot and kind of play for each other. The offense that Coach Stallings runs is really unselfish.”

While Neltner, who played tight end for his Highlands High, claims he enjoyed certain aspects of his time in Bayou Bengal purple and gold, he has found a home in the bright lights of Tennessee’s capital city.

“Both cities are nice – Baton Rouge is definitely a college town, and at LSU it is all about sports- that’s what the city lives on,” Neltner says. “In Nashville, Vanderbilt is a part of that, but there’s also the Nashville Predators hockey team, and all the country music stuff going on.”

When their run through the NCAA tournament finally comes to an end, Byars and Neltner will part ways, one likely embarking on a career in the professional ranks, another staying on to steady the Commodores’ helm again in 2008. But Neltner knows the two will remain close thanks to their time together in Nashville.

“We shared something that no one else on the team really shared – we had a different college experience than most of these guys had, and we definitely sympathized with each other,” says Neltner, who credits Byars with helping him ease the transition between schools. “He has been great to play with, and is one of the best players in the country in my opinion. He’s been awesome, both on and off the court.”

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