BOWLING GREEN — The final season of Camron Justice’s college basketball career is one he won’t soon forget.
After all, it started one day after he got married and came at a time when he expected to spend the season as a men’s basketball graduate assistant in an academic adviser role in the Western Kentucky University program, not launching 3-pointers, driving to the basket or becoming a vital piece in the Hilltopper lineup.
It all started for Justice, Kentucky’s 2015 Mr. Basketball from Knott County Central High School, over the summer when WKU coach Rick Stansbury offered a glimmer of hope that his playing career possibly could still have some life left.
Justice’s extra eligibility in part was due to the extra year the NCAA granted to student-athletes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
It started at the end of July when Stansbury met with Justice and explained to him the possibility that he may be eligible to return to the court.
“To be honest, at that point, I really didn’t know it was an option,” he said. “They told me the whole process, this and that, blah, blah, blah and we just went step by step with what the NCAA asked and here I am today sitting on this side of it again.”
It was announced Nov. 11 that Justice, a 6-foot-3 guard, had been cleared by the NCAA to resume his college career. He actually had been told of the NCAA’s decision the day before.
On Nov. 13, he married Kaylee, a former University of Tennessee cheerleader. About 27 hours after saying “I do” he was playing in Asheville, North Carolina as WKU faced South Carolina.
Justice played 17 minutes against South Carolina and missed five of his six shots from the field. It would be one of his rare games not being among WKU’s scoring leaders.
“It’s just kind of a surreal moment right now….. It’s going to be a journey, it’s going to be a long journey. My task is to be that veteran leader and bring some experience to this team,” he said.
A gritty player on both ends of the floor who can pull up for a 3-pointer as easily as he can attack the basket, Justice is second on the team in scoring at 13.9 points a game and he’s started WKU’s last nine games heading into Thursday’s Conference USA home game against Rice.
Justice started his college career by signing with Vanderbilt. He played his freshman season there and then transferred after playing seven games as a sophomore.
He ended up at Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis where he averaged 18.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game as a redshirt junior and was named to the All-Horizon League second team after a redshirt season.
Justice then was on the move again when he transferred to WKU as a graduate senior. He played in 27 of 30 games, starting for WKU in 18 contests and averaged 10.1 points and 1.4 assists per game in a season that was halted before the C-USA Tournament due the pandemic.
He believed that his career had ended in March of 2020.
About a week after he joined the team in November, he said he wasn’t sure if he still had processed “into my mindset that I’m really back playing again.”
He said it “was a weird transition” to go from playing all of his life to his role as an academic adviser.
“I had to stay on top of guys about going to class and getting their homework done,” he said. “A lot of these guys I had played with …. and then mentoring them about what to do.”
Now, that leadership role is on the court — again — for Justice after he thought the door on his playing career had closed.
“He just adds to this team in a positive way,” Stansbury said. “He adds a lot to our team.”
WKU ends a three-game C-USA homestand Saturday against North Texas in a rematch of last year’s league tournament final that North Texas won in overtime.