Belmont has been nearly unbeatable and Dylan Windler is a big reason as to why

Belmont junior forward Dylan Windler drives to the basket in a game earlier this season against Vanderbilt at the Curb Event Center in Nashville. (Photo courtesy of Belmont University Athletics)
Belmont University forward Dylan Windler dunks the ball in a win over Eastern Kentucky earlier in his career in Nashville. (Photo courtesy of Belmont University Athletics)
Belmont University men's basketball coach Rick Byrd
Belmont University junior forward Dylan Windler
Belmont junior forward Dylan Windler receives congratulations from fans at the Curb Event Center in Nashville after beating Vanderbilt earlier this season. (Photo courtesy of Belmont University Athletics)

America was celebrating its bicentennial (people under 45 can look that event up on the internet) when Rick Byrd first began recruiting college basketball players, so you can forgive him if he doesn’t exactly do back flips over a singular player as he leads the Belmont University men’s program today.

However, when he was recruiting Dylan Windler, Byrd admittedly got “really excited,” and with good reason.

The Indianapolis native has been one of the best student-athletes – in every facet imaginable – that Byrd has had the opportunity to coach, which is saying something for a guy that has been a head coach for nearly four decades.

“We were really excited when Dylan decided to come to Belmont,” Byrd told News-Sentinel.com. “And I think that we were real fortunate.”

The 6-foot-7 junior forward has made the climb from nowhere to somewhere on the basketball court, but finding success wasn’t done overnight, which IS different than his college recruitment was.

A BIG DAY

July 11, 2014 is a date that should live in infamy for Windler. That is because his life changed in a matter of hours – in a positive way.

Windler held no scholarship offers as he ventured that day up to North Central High School about 20 minutes north of his home on the southside of Indianapolis to compete in the Adidas Invitational. However, by the time he sat down for dinner that evening, paying for college was no longer a concern, and for Byrd, he had to alter his travel plans for the rest of the summer.

“We kind of saw him explode onto the scene,” Byrd recalled of that day. “We already knew about him, my assistant Mark Price had already been to (Perry Meridian High School) to visit with him, but we really didn’t know a lot about him.

“He went from zero scholarship offers to about 20 in one weekend’s time.”

What Windler displayed was the ability to score at multiple levels, play with great pace, and he was surprisingly athletic.

For Byrd, he immediately changed his recruiting schedule for that month and followed Windler all the way to Los Angeles and Las Vegas for follow-up tournaments.

All of Windler’s athletic traits were impressive enough to garner interest from colleges, but once the recruiters did more research, he became a no-brainer, because he was an all-brainer.

As good as Windler is on the basketball court – and he is phenomenal – he is just as strong academically and character wise.

“School is just something that has always been important to me,” Windler told News-Sentinel.com. “It’s just something that I always took seriously and worked at.”

He was an honor roll student at Perry Meridian, as well as a member of the National Honor Society, and that level of diligence has continued at Belmont.

The accounting major has been named to the Ohio Valley Commissioner’s Honor Roll each of his first two seasons with the Bruin program, and there is no reason to believe that he can’t go 4-for-4 in that regard.

“Dylan felt like Belmont was a good fit, athletically, academically, in lots of ways,” Byrd said. “Sometimes we sign kids and we’re confident about them, but we’re not sure about them. I was sure that Dylan was going to be a very, very good OVC basketball player.”

And he has been.

CHANGE OF SCENERY

With 10 NCAA Division I basketball programs in Indiana, just how in the world did Windler get past the state border?

There are a lot of reasons. As in 772 of them, which is the number of victories Byrd has claimed in his career.

Byrd is the fifth most successful active coach at the NCAA Division I level and Windler knew that being successful on the court wouldn’t even be a question if he signed with Belmont.

“They had a great tradition,” Windler said of the Bruins. “That tradition of winning was a big factor.”

Windler has been a part of 61 victories (and counting) since he came to Belmont, two trips to the NIT, and a couple of Ohio Valley Conference regular season titles.

The Bruins improved to 18-6 with a rout of Eastern Kentucky Thursday (they were up 26 at halftime) and have already beaten SEC program Vanderbilt, Middle Tennessee State (currently 17-5) and Western Kentucky (16-6 and beat Purdue), the latter two on the road, and Belmont is cruising to yet another OVC title as it leads the league with a 10-1 record.

Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that Belmont’s campus is gorgeous AND in one of the coolest cities (particularly for millennials) in the entire country.

“Nashville never hurts us,” Byrd said.

Windler and his teammates (four of whom are Indiana natives) have been able to enjoy a lot of great happenings on the court, as mentioned, but off of the court, “there is always something going on,” Windler said.

“Nashville is great,” Windler continued. “There are a number of colleges (Vanderbilt, Lipscomb, Belmont, and Tennessee State are all there) here, there are concerts, and you have the (NHL Predators and NFL Titans). It’s just a lot of fun.”

Byrd has spent his entire life in the Volunteer State and to see Nashville emerge as the place where Hee-Haw was taped to a metropolis in which “100-plus people are moving here every day,” according to Byrd, is astounding to him.

“It’s immeasurable in how much it has helped,” Byrd said of Belmont’s location. “I have always said about our recruiting advantages, the quality of our school and the beauty of our campus is exceptional. And the city of Nashville is pretty unbeatable.”

Just like the Belmont basketball team.

A DEVELOPING DYLAN

Byrd professes that he felt certain that Windler would be a “very, very good OVC basketball player,” but that wasn’t exactly clear from day one.

That Windler is a serious candidate for the league’s Player of the Year award (he ranks in the top 10 in nine different statistical categories) has been a process.

“In his first two years,” Byrd explained, “he was willing to play more of a role. Dylan was kind of in the background. But I’ve been real pleased to see him take on the role of being kind of our first choice offensively.”

And why wouldn’t he be?

Windler is scoring 17.4 points per game on 55.6 percent shooting.

He can score on drives, he can score on put-backs (he leads the team with 38 offensive rebounds), and he can score at the free throw line (he leads the Bruins with 78 made free throws).

“I try to mix it up and keep the defenses guessing,” Windler said. “I try to just to be able to do it all and try not to be a one-dimensional player.”

Which he was early on.

Windler missed 35 of his 46 3-point attempts as a freshman (23.9 percent), but that number grew to 39.8 percent a year ago and this season he has sank 51 3-pointers at a 43.2 percent clip.

“With a bigger role,” Windler explained, “comes a boost of confidence, and once you start making them, you feel like you can’t miss sometimes.”

As much as Windler has grown his scoring mentality, he doesn’t lag defensively.

He ranks third in the OVC in defensive rebounds and is athletic enough to be sixth in blocked shots.

“I try to play just as good of defense, as well,” Windler said, “because I know I have to do that for our team. I just try to do everything that I can to make our team better.”

VERSATILE IN HIS GREATNESS

Not only does Windler excel on the basketball court, as well as off of it, he has the ability to take that prowess onto a multitude of stages.

Part of the reason that he didn’t play a lot of summer-circuit basketball and flew under the recruiting radar was that he was heavily involved in junior golf, which Byrd said is a skill-set that hasn’t deserted Windler.

“We’ve played a couple of times,” Byrd said. “He is way out of my league. He hits it about 100 yards further than I do and that is kind of a tough starting point.”

Byrd said that Windler has beaten his coach in tennis and ping pong, and he shows tremendous athleticism when the Bruins gather for fun on the softball diamond prior to the season.

“He could probably be our starting center fielder in baseball,” Byrd said. “He could probably be a wide receiver for somebody. My guess is that he could play soccer, although I have never asked him about that.

“He is just really talented. I don’t know what he can’t do.”

Belmont’s opponents have been wondering the same thing all season.

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.

COMMENTS