Veteran transfer Byam embraces opportunity to help Griffins build into a winner

Justace Byam has made a big difference for the Griffins so far this season (Railene Hooper photo).
Justace Byam has made a big difference for the Griffins so far this season (Railene Hooper photo).

Jason Hills 
For MacEwan Athletics 
EDMONTON – Justace Byam has never had an issue taking a chance on himself. 

After his Grade 10 year at Mayfield Secondary School in Brampton, Ont., he left to go to Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, Utah to try to make a bigger name for himself. 

He was not only named MVP in both years, but he also made it to the Utah all-state team in back-to-back seasons. 

Now, Byam is taking another chance on himself, after transferring from the University of Windsor to the MacEwan Griffins, and so far, he's become a very important piece to the Griffins as the team's starting point guard. 

"I was determined at a young age to go that route. In the grand scheme, it's a gamble on yourself. You're representing where you're from and your county in a place where you don't know anyone. It's an environment where you either sink or swim," said Byam on his decision to go to a Prep School in the U.S. 

"Now, coming to MacEwan, it's an opportunity to do something bigger than just personal accomplishments and personal stats. It's motivating to try and turn this program around and help change the culture. 

"I've always tried to be a person who's not afraid of adversity and not being afraid of failure. Just take that gamble on myself to try and change how it went in the past." 

Griffins head coach Mike Connolly was looking for a true point guard with a pass-first mentality, and he's got one in Byam. The six-foot-two guard is averaging 9.3 points, four assists and 2.7 rebounds in six games for the Griffins this season.  

When he had nine assists in a game against UNBC Nov. 17, he tied a program record for the most in a Canada West game, the first time a Griffin has done that in five years.

Byam and the Griffins (0-6) return to the court after a bye week and battle the UBC Thunderbirds (4-4) Friday (8 p.m.) and Saturday (5 p.m., David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV).



"It's been a bit of an adjustment, especially after coming off a full year of not playing," said Byam. 

"I've been getting more comfortable every game. I've been trying to do my best and really lead a lot of the guys on the team. Me being an older guy and having experience, I've been trying to do my best to lead vocally and my actions and the way I play." 

Against UNBC two weeks ago, Byam had one of the best passing games in program history, tying a program record with nine assists on Nov. 17 (Rich Abney photo).

Byam grew up in a basketball family. His older brother Jarryn Skeete went the same route as Justace, leaving home to go to Wasatch Academy. He would eventually go to the University of Buffalo and play professionally in Spain as well as in the National Basketball League of Canada (NBL). 

"When I was younger, I was like his shadow. I wanted to do everything he did," said Byam, who is seven years younger than Jarryn.

 "He was involved in that first wave of Canadians going to the States, and being young and seeing that, it was something I wanted to do. 

"When I got older, I got to see him and his school play against teams like Duke and Kentucky. I'm so thankful for the experiences I've had with him."

The brotherly bond between Justace and Jarryn is strong. The two talk practically every day. Jarryn is currently the player personnel, recruiting & analytics assistant for the men's basketball team at Arizona State, but the two always have time between their busy schedules to talk basketball. 

"I talk to him every day, and he watches every game on livestream, and we go over (game) film together. It's like having another coach," said Byam. 
"He's always completely honest with me, no matter what." 

The Griffins roster is very young. Byam is in his third year of eligibility, but is in his first year with the team, and they don't have a single player on their roster in their fourth or fifth years. 

Byam loves the challenge of being part of a young program trying to form an identity and build a stable program. 

The team has had some heartbreaking losses and took some losses on the chin, but the Griffins are on the cusp of earning some wins this season. 

"The biggest thing I've learned this year is to be resilient. Nobody likes to lose, but to be able to stay mentally strong and come to practice and still work hard and not lose motivation is the biggest thing I've learned," said Byam. 

"Everybody goes through those types of situations in life when it comes to facing adversity. You can either lay down, or get back up, and keep going every day. It's a valuable lesson we're all learning, and I know all our hard work and belief in ourselves will pay off for us."