Byears was the Total Entertainment Package
Jan. 17, 2011
(First in a series of stories running Sunday through Friday portraying the six inductees into the DePaul Athletic Hall of Fame)
It's hard to imagine that anyone with the nickname "Tot" could average 24.5 points and 11 rebounds over a basketball career.
But during her two-year stint at DePaul, Latasha Byears was anything but a small amount.
Byears' grandmother initially gave her the nickname "Tot" when she was a child. But "Tot" took on another meaning while playing for the Blue Demons: Tough Ole' Tasha.
"Tasha had a real tough exterior," said women's basketball coach Doug Bruno. "But what a great young woman she is---like a daddy's little girl. She never played dirty, but also didn't take anything [from opponents]."
Tales of her toughness will abound on Sunday, Jan. 23 when Byears is inducted into the DePaul Athletics Hall of Fame during a banquet at McGrath Arena.
Byears' basketball numbers opened the doors to the Hall of Fame as she is the all-time leader in career scoring and rebounding average while also holding season records in scoring average (26.5 in 1994-95) and field goals (311 in 1994-95).
But it was her mental toughness on the court and overall likeability that have earned her a place within the hearts of those she has encountered at the university.
"I never would have thought that I would be inducted to the DePaul Hall of Fame," Byears said. "It's such a great honor for me and my family. I know that if my grandmother were still alive to see this, she would be so proud of me."
Hailing from Memphis, Tenn., Byears played for two seasons at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, before being recruited by Bruno. Once he saw her, he was immediately impressed.
"She was a great passer and could shoot the three," Bruno said. "She had an uncanny ability to rebound and score at standing just 5-feet, 11-inches."
Tough as she may have been on the court, it was Byears' sense of humor that kept her teammates relaxed and always laughing off the court.
"The way I see it, comedians are intelligent," Bruno said. "'Tot' would perform standup on the bus and while in meetings. She did great Andrew Dice Clay and Chris Rock impressions and would make everyone laugh."
The admiration for her coach, "Ole' Boy" Bruno as she'd call him, was reciprocated.
"You probably won't find another coach who has a passion for the game like he does," Byears said. "But he also taught me some life lessons, and I thank him for the long talks in his office and pushing me to be the best that I can be."
In Byears' first year (1994-95), she was named Second Team All-American by the Associated Press while leading a Blue Demon team that was plagued with injuries to the NCAA tournament.
"In '94, we lost some of our key players," Bruno said. "'Tasha instantly stepped up as a leader and helped us bring the team back."
Byears followed up her first year as a Blue Demon by averaging 22 points and 11 rebounds per game and earning First Team All-American honors in 1995-96. She went on to a successful career in the WNBA with the Sacramento Monarchs, Los Angeles Sparks, Washington Mystics and Houston Comets. She is currently playing professionally overseas in Bulgaria.
"Bulgaria is a really nice country," Byears said. "The people here have a spirit and a love for the game of basketball, and it is super cold. It's like minus-10 degrees here!"
There will be all kinds of warmth surrounding Byers on Sunday, and the pride in her accomplishment won't be limited to "Tot's" family.
"This is her first year of eligibility, and she absolutely deserves it," Bruno said. "It is also an honor for us to have had Tasha play basketball here. She helped us gain national prominence."
There's only one thing that could've make this day even better.
That wonderful lady will be watching from above, "Tot," and rest assured, she is proud of you---just like everyone else.
(Monday: Mabel Landry Staton, Track & Field Olympian)