JONESBORO — Nettleton senior Tylei Wofford-Byrd could draw on an insider’s perspective as she considered making Tennessee-Martin her college choice.
Former Lady Raider basketball star Dasia Young enjoyed a strong freshman year last season with Kevin McMillan’s Skyhawks, starting the final 20 games for a team that won the Ohio Valley Conference regular-season title. Young added her voice to UT Martin’s sales pitch as the Skyhawks recruited Wofford-Byrd.
“She definitely put in some good words,” Wofford-Byrd said. “She told me about how they were, how everything went, and I was really sold on it.”
Wofford-Byrd signed a letter of intent with UT Martin on Wednesday, a decision celebrated Friday during a signing ceremony at Raider Gym.
A 5-foot-11 forward, Wofford-Byrd is the seventh Division I signee Nettleton has had under 15th-year head coach Jason Smith. She is also the 24th Lady Raider to sign at all levels since 2009, Smith said.
Smith believes the best basketball is ahead of Wofford-Byrd, who missed all but 13 games last season because of a stress fracture. She scored 22 points in three state tournament games last season for the state champion Lady Raiders.
“I think she’ll be able to shoot it at the next level and stretch defenses out as she’ll be guarded by a forward-type kid as well,” Smith said. “I think what they like about her is she has the ability to play multiple positions. Earlier I talked about her best basketball being ahead of her and I think that’s true because she was set back last year.
“She missed right at 11 months. She got to play in the state tournament, but then we get shut down (because of COVID-19). It was kind of a weird rehab, getting back ready, rehab. We still don’t see her back at her full potential yet for us.”
Wofford-Byrd, who averaged 6.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 13 games as a junior, scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds in a game against Trumann shortly before suffering her foot injury. She had nine points and five rebounds against Alma in the first round of the state tournament, then added nine points and six boards against Sylvan Hills.
Signing day meant a lot, she said.
“I’ve been on a long road to get here and to finally be here, it’s unreal in a way, but I’m happy about it, really happy and excited,” Wofford-Byrd said.
McMillan described Wofford-Byrd as an extremely skilled wing/post who will be a good fit with the Skyhawks.
“She comes from a great high school and travel program which has built a proven winner,” McMillan said in a UT Martin press release. “She has a phenomenal skill set and possesses the ability to change games at different spots whether it be with the ball in her hands or rebounding. She is a super smart and savvy player that will fit in well.”
Smith is counting on Wofford-Byrd to contribute in several categories for the Lady Raiders this season.
“We’re going to need her to get double-figure rebounds every single night. That’s just a need and scoring, she’s such an unselfish kid,” Smith said. “There’s nights when we’re going to have to have her score, and I think she will, but there will be a lot of nights when she may have four or six points, but be the most valuable player just because of what she brought in rebounding and have four or five assists, maybe like a Draymond Green, something like that.”