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Royal’s Center Gearing for Mean Season : Basketball: A more hardened Jared Byrne blocked, shot and rebounded his way to MVP award in Beverly Hills tournament.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Apparently, the big-guy role that Jared Byrne played last season for Royal High wasn’t satisfying for the 6-foot-7 center.

So Byrne added 20 pounds, worked out in a weight room and cultivated a Laimbeer sneer.

Meet the big, tough guy on Royal’s campus.

“Last year he just didn’t play as big as he could have,” Coach Joe Malkinson said. “He didn’t have a physical brand to him. When you’re that size, you need to be a space eater, and that was an area in which he could improve.”

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After nine games this season, including four last week in which he earned the most-valuable-player award at the Beverly Hills tournament, Byrne has engulfed plenty of space.

He has erased the soft-guy image as easily as he erases potential layins.

Byrne averaged 19.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 6.2 blocked shots in leading Royal to its first Beverly Hills tournament championship in four tries.

He opened the tournament with 22 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks in a 95-93 win over Crespi.

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And if any doubts still lingered, they were swatted away like one of the five blocks Byrne recorded in a 91-71 win over Buena in the quarterfinals. He also had 23 points and 14 rebounds in that contest.

“He has improved his game in all facets,” Malkinson said. “He’s really become a force on the boards, and it’s nice to know that when opponents go inside, the shot is going to be coming back.”

Byrne’s new look includes 220 pounds and an attitude. Not that he needed it, some Marmonte League opponents might say; last year’s model averaged 11.5 points and was third in the league with 8.0 rebounds.

“I didn’t want to regret anything this season,” Byrne said. “I didn’t want to look back and say, ‘I wish this could have been different.’ ”

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Instead, opponents are wishing they never had entered the key. Byrne--along with teammates Kevin Hambly (6-7), Mark Fiala (6-5) and Kerry White (6-5)--has made rebounds difficult to come by for opponents.

“When they come down the lane, my eyes light up,” Byrne said. “I enjoy blocking shots the most.”

Dare you enter “Jared’s Jungle?”

“He takes a lot of pride in enforcing the paint,” Malkinson said.

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Byrne also prides himself on his work in the classroom, where he has maintained a 4.0 grade-point average and scored 1,320 on the SAT.

“A lot of the kids look up to him, and it isn’t because he is 6-7, 220,” Malkinson said. “He’s a good leader and is the epitome of a student-athlete. He’s a real pleasure to have in the program.”

Yet, Byrne insists he is nothing more than a body in a gold and green jersey.

“We’re 7-2 because we’ve played well as a team,” he said. “It’s going to be tough to shut us down.”

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