Steamboat Springs The whispers and stares happen even before Steamboat Springs High School basketball player Garrett Bye squares off at midcourt for the opening-game tipoff.
He usually towers a half a head — or sometimes even a full head — above his opponent standing just inches away, as the ref settles in to toss up the ball. He’s almost always the most noticeable player in every gym he walks into, and Bye said he’s often the subject of aggressive chants in away gyms.
It’s the excessive attention, student-section chants and growing expectations that fuel Bye to go beyond just being another player on the court trying to help his team win.
Bye wants to be great, and he wants to play college basketball. But the 6-foot-9-inch junior has another year before he has to commit, and he’s determined to weather the expectations and forge a path past mediocrity and make naysayers eat their words.
“I just love the opportunity, the fact that I have a chance to play at the next level,” Bye said on Christmas Eve. “It’s huge for me — a big drive. Basketball is just fun now.”
Growing into his body
One thing has been a constant with the Bye family, and that is ridiculous height. Garrett’s dad, Michael Bye, was the shortest of his brothers, and still stands 6-foot-4. Before Garrett even graduated from middle school, he perched above the 6-foot mark, and people began to take notice.
He first was approached by Steamboat AAU coach Devin Borvansky in seventh grade about the prospect of playing basketball. He decided to take it up along with his favorite sport at the time, soccer.
Even though height always has been part of Bye’s life, basketball didn’t really stick initially.
“In eighth grade, he was taller than any person, including teachers in the middle school,” his dad said. “It was kind of funny, but in middle school I remember for at least a short period of time he was unsure he even wanted to play.”
He was tall, sure, but Bye’s youthful frame had yet to fill out. Uncoordinated and frankly not that great at the sport in general, he second-guessed his decision.
But Bye is a worker, and with the guidance of his coaches and parents, he kept at it. And he got taller — a lot taller — in the matter of a few years.
And with height on the court come expectations, sometimes far-fetched ones.
“People always say, ‘If I was that tall, I’d be this good,’” Bye said. “There’s a reason not every 6-foot-9 kid dominates. You have to put in so much more work because you’ve grown so much. Your feet are slower, and you don’t have the coordination or athleticism.”
Gateway to a scholarship
Playing for the Sailors is fun for Bye because of the team atmosphere. It’s a group he’s spent most of his basketball life playing alongside, and they do it for months and months each winter.
But AAU is his gateway to the future. So in the summers, Bye splits his time between Steamboat’s AAU team, High Altitude Basketball, and his Denver club, the Elevation Flyers.
With Elevation, Bye gets the chance to compete with and against some of the top high school players in the country. It’s not cheap on the wallet, but the Flyers ship him and his nine teammates all across the United States, playing in tournaments in places like Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Dallas.
“The way the college recruiting game is anymore, they don’t come watch individual high school games,” Michael Bye said. “They go to one of these tournaments and they can see 40 or 50 kids in one shot who they have their eye on.”
He just turned 17 years old, but Bye said about 15 schools have contacted him about possibly enrolling when he’s done as a Sailor.
He keeps it all in perspective, though. He knows that height alone won’t ink him a college scholarship, so he’s determined to pack on more weight and continue to develop his footwork. With his dad in his ear constantly reminding him how lucky he is to even be in this position, Bye is motivated by a number of things.
He’s pushed by the idea of suiting up in a college uniform in two years. Bye also is fueled by those who say he can’t.
And there’s a small keepsake above his bedroom door reminding him that even though he’s “on the cusp” of great things, as his dad puts it, he’s not quite there yet.
It’s a Western Slope League honorable mention certificate, taunting him that there were at least a few big guys in the Sailors’ conference last year who proved themselves more.
“It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to,” Bye said about college. “But that (honorable mention) frustrated me last season. Hopefully, I will get the first team.”
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll
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