Hakim Byrd is used to hearing a complaint or three from Neumann Goretti coach Carl Arrigale during the slick senior’s playing time on the court.
He’s the point guard. The team leader. The coach on the floor.
He’s the guy charged with translating Arrigale’s gruff instructions into actions. That’s his job.
Oddly enough, Byrd tends to hear even more grumbling when he’s on the bench.
“He gets yelled at more when he’s not out there,” Arrigale said of Byrd.
The coach was joking.
Arrigale is not happy when Byrd is not on the court, directing the traffic and controlling the tempo for a Neumann Goretti team that has reached the Philadelphia Catholic League championship game.
Neumann Goretti (20-4) will play Roman Catholic (16-8) in a clash of old rivals for the league title Monday at 8:15 p.m. at the Palestra.
“It means a lot,” Byrd said of making the league final. “That’s what I came here for.”
The 5-foot-11 Byrd described himself as “80 percent” healthy during Wednesday night’s 51-41 victory over Archbishop Ryan in the semifinals at the Palestra.
Byrd scored nine points but shot 3-for-9 and seemed to lack some of his usual explosiveness in the open court. He vowed to be improved to “95 percent” for Monday night’s championship game.
Byrd sprained his right ankle in a Jan. 31 game vs. St. Joseph’s Prep. He scored 19 points that night as the Saints improved to 16-2 overall (with both losses to out-of-state powers) and 10-0 in PCL play.
In those first 10 league games, Byrd averaged 16.5 points and hit double figures in every contest expect one, when he scored eight.
Byrd, a Marist recruit, sat out the next two games, a 60-57 loss to Bishop McDevitt and a victory over Devon Prep. He limped through a 61-54 loss to Cardinal O’Hara on Feb. 7 and sat out the regular-season finale Feb. 9, a win over West Catholic.
“I might have forced it a little bit, coming back too soon against O’Hara,” Byrd said.
His impatience was understandable. He’s the floor leader of a senior-heavy team with its sights set on a PCL title and a PIAA Class 3A crown as well.
He was reluctant to miss any time during the dwindling days of his career.
“We’re trying to go out with a bang, get city and state championships,” Byrd said. “It was frustrating, not being out there with my team, controlling things.”
It was tough for the player. It was tough for the coach, too.
Arrigale relies on Byrd for more than just good decisions on the court.
“He’s the heart and soul,” Arrigale said. “He’s my guy. He’s my closer. When he’s hurt he doesn’t like to close.”
Arrigale said Byrd’s steady leadership and positive personality are vital ingredients for a team with accomplished and competitive players such as senior swingmen Jordan Hall, a St. Joseph’s recruit, and Cameron Young, a Bowling Green recruit, as well as juniors Hysier Miller, Blaise Vespe and Chris Evans, among others.
“They need each other and that’s something we’ve preached all year and he’s at the head of It,” Arrigale said. “Everybody loves playing with him. He never has a problem with any player. I lean on him because he can keep them all together.
“We’ve got some guys in that locker room, they are great, great guys but they are a little different and I tell him, ‘I can’t do it alone. I need your help.’”
Monday night’s final will mark Byrd’s last league game, the beginning of the end of a superb career as well as a unique partnership between player and coach.
“We’ve been at this thing together and this is where we want to be Monday night,” Arrigale said. “We’ll be ready to play. I don’t know whether we’ll win or lose but we’ll be ready to play.”