P2P CCS Boys Basketball Honors
Carmel's J.T. Byrne is the CCS Freshman of the Year. David Royal/Monterey Herald

CCS Freshman of the Year

A player on the southern end of the Central Coast Section, especially one in a town known for tourism, often flies under the radar, but J.T. Byrne was undoubtedly the top freshman in the entire section this year.

“That kid is a beast and I couldn’t believe he was a freshman,” said Half Moon Bay head coach John Parsons, whose team faced Carmel twice. “Big, strong, physical and plays the right way. Super good kid and nothing but good things to say about him.”

In a year dominated by upperclassmen, Byrne averaged 19 points and 7.7 rebounds per game for the Padres, who won the final Mission Trail Athletic League title. The league will be consolidated into the new Pacific Coast Athletic League, meaning Byrne will be facing a much deeper league.

The 6-foot-5 center will certainly be ready for the challenge, having shown the ability to play in physical contests throughout his freshman year.

“In my 27 years of coaching basketball, I’ve found there are two types of players when it comes to contact: seekers and avoiders,” said head coach Kurt Grahl. “He’s a seeker.”

Byrne was given a harsh introduction to that style of play, as many freshmen receive. In the Padres’ lone league loss, a 51-50 defeat to rival Pacific Grove, he was outscored 12-5 and outrebounded 10-4 by PG senior Ian Sinclair-Fox.

“He said to me at the beginning of practice the next day, ‘that won’t happen again’,” said Grahl. “‘I’m going to shut that guy down.’”

He made good on his word. In the February 6 rematch with the Breakers, Byrne had 17 points while holding Sinclair-Fox scoreless. He also outrebounded the senior 8-1.

Even against Half Moon Bay star Ethan Menzies, Byrne was able to hold his own. Menzies outscored him 26-15 in the first meeting, but when the two met again in the CCS Division IV Semifinals, Byrne outscored him 19-3. The Cougars did win both meetings, but the first was by 16 and the rematch was a two-point game in the final minutes.

Byrne is also playing varsity baseball, where he’s batting over .300. In an April 24 win over Pacific Grove, he drove in two runs and reached base three times.

If basketball and baseball don’t work out for Byrne, he may also have a future in filmmaking. He received national recognition for a documentary he produced in middle school on baseball in Japanese internment camps.

For now, Byrne is part of an extremely promising tandem for Carmel. Combining with Kai Lee, who averaged 12.9 points per game as a sophomore, the Padres will be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.

NOTE: We would like to thank our media partners, coaches, parents, players and fans for contributing photos for our all-section features. We salute all of the players that have made this a wonderful season of CCS basketball.