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Forward Althea Byfield has scored in double figures eight games this season.

Jan. 27, 2006

COMMERCE, Texas - Althea Byfield is the world's greatest defender. Of the 6,494,899,830 people on planet Earth, approximately, what gives the A&M-Commerce forward such distinction?

Just ask her and you'll be a believer too.

The 6-1 senior honed her skills in her native Jamaica playing a variation of basketball and lacrosse popular in the Caribbean nations. "Netball," as it's known, is played on a hardcourt surface divided into three sections, which assigns where the seven players from both teams are permitted to move. Players may not take more than one step before passing or shooting of a ball that is slightly smaller and lighter than a basketball. A goal is scored by shooting the ball into a cylinder with the approximate height and dimensions of a basketball hoop--absent a backboard.

Byfield began playing basketball just five years ago with hopes of being offered a scholarship to play in the United States.

"When I started playing basketball," stated Byfield, "I couldn't make a layup or hit a shot." But soon enough, the abilities she had crafted playing netball would transition to the hardwood. She played her freshman season at Midland Junior College before transferring to A&M-Commerce, starting 16 games for the Lions in the 2003-04 season.

Byfield had her breakout last season with the Lions, starting all 27 games as a junior. She recorded the only known triple-double for the Lion women in school history with a win over Texas Woman's while also setting the school record for steals in a game with 12 all in the same night.

She was the only woman in the Lone Star Conference to rank in the top 10 for rebounds, assists and steals last season.

Now in her fifth year of playing basketball, Byfield's minutes are down slightly from a season ago, when she was seventh in the conference in minutes played, as the Lions now have one of the deepest benches in all the LSC. It's showed. A&M-Commerce was ranked seventh in the first South Central Regional rankings published in January.


The Lions have also beaten both preseason division favorites, as voted on by coaches in the conference. The latest came in a 92-88 double-overtime win over Northeastern State (Okla.), the No. 4 team in the region and the defending LSC North champion.

"The intensity level is different now," she said. "You can never be at ease--ever. Everyone knew that before the start of the season. ... You try to figure out the starting five. Of course, you include yourself in there and then figure out who the other four are."

Her playing time has steadily increased this season as her performance on the court has continued to impress. She has seen her shooting percentage jump better than 10 points from last season to 56 percent. She has scored in double figures eight times while aiding a defensive effort that has held eight of its last 10 opponents to less than 40 percent shooting.

Being a senior, she is in her final semester of college ball. Byfield says she has come to accept this as being her last season of eligibility, though she promises it won't be the end of her basketball career. She may decide to follow the lead of former Lion Tamikki Williams, who began playing professional basketball in Europe last year.

"At first I didn't like basketball," she said. "Now I love basketball and I'm ready to get out of school." She'll graduate with a bachelor's in kinesiology in December.

The one absolute unequivocal assurance she can offer is that everything is on the table--except one. "I don't see myself waking up and going to an office job. I just don't."

She calls assistant coach Summer Sparnon her biggest inspiration, inspiration she'll use to do what no other Lion women have done before--win a conference title. For now, Commerce is home as she takes more than just the wins and losses from her experiences. The bonds formed now will be with her a lifetime, she said. "We are like a family. Coach Summer isn't just a coach; she's like ... a sister," Byfield paused.

"I expect a ring," she said. "I don't have a boyfriend to give me a ring. I want a conference championship ring, and I'll settle for that."



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