You have easily had the weirdest career of any BYU athlete in history. I don’t even know how to feel about you as we approach senior night. That’s strange, Brandon. I usually have my feelings sorted out after a 4-year relationship.
As a freshman, I was in love. Tall, strong, athletic. Most big guys at BYU look a little clunky on the floor. Not you. You could run the floor like a gazelle, block shots, pass with confidence, and really score in the key.
I’ll never forget your performance in the Huntsman Center when you were a freshman. You looked like a basketball savant in that game. You were the best player on the floor that night. You were showing off post moves like crazy. It was never the same move. Utah’s defensive player of the year candidate David Foster looked like a fool out there. An amazing performance of a team high 21 points on 7-9 shooting, 7-11 from the line, and 7 rebounds. The future was bright.
Sophomore year, you were starting center on the most exciting, interesting team in BYU basketball history. That team was at a minimum one of the Top 3 teams in school history, if not the best ever. Of course, this was the season you were suspended. Leading to the biggest "What if?" in BYU sports history. That being, what if you wouldn’t have been suspended? The fallout from that suspension is enormous, and ultimately, would take another 4 or 5 pages to detail. But I believe that we would have made the Championship game had you not been suspended.
ESPN labeled you as the 2nd most important player on the team. They were right. Your backup was James Anderson. That didn’t work out. It wasn’t Noah’s game to take on physical inside players. Logan Magnusson and Kyle Collinsworth had to fill in your role. They made an admirable effort to do so, but Florida burned us on the inside and squeaked out an OT win. We needed you, but no one really blamed you. I didn’t. I don’t. Life happened. The honor code is just a part of being a BYU fan.
In a college atmosphere, which has seen schools sell out their principles for athletic success (Penn State), BYU didn’t do that. You’ll be a reminder to me (and others) of the integrity of my university. When we win a championship, I’ll know we didn’t do it while compromising our identity. Plus, that experience made you the #1 trending topic worldwide on twitter for quite a while. Just another testament of the excitement generated by your team.
Junior year, after you were reinstated, I thought it was your team. It didn’t work out that way. When I talk about the 2011-2012 season, I refer to it as the Noah Hartsock year. It was a surprise to me. You again were the 2nd most important player on the team. Eventually, teams game planned to stop Noah. Hartsock’s senior year solidified him as a Top 50 player in BYU history. Noah’s presence helped you, and yours helped Noah.
When the first ever WCC conference season rolled around, you feasted on other teams. Your skills were far too classy for other WCC teams to handle. You had half a foot on these guys and there was nothing they could do about it. A couple tough games against St. Mary’s and Gonzaga, and it was a 3rd place finish in conference. Still, you made the NCAA tourney again. Nice season.
Senior year, I was thinking, this is Brandon’s team. Has to be. I wasn’t alone. Before the season, Mark Durrant repeated several times, "this team goes as far as Brandon goes."
To my surprise, you’ve been the 2nd most important player on the team this year too. Tyler Haws has been great. You’ve been good and steady once again. But this was supposed to be your year. This year has been hallmarked foul trouble. As a senior. Your game has incorporated more jump shooting (including an occasional three-pointer); rather than parking it down in the post, where you are a master, and going to work. You aren’t feasting on the 6’6" players like you did last year.
Midway though this season, I had a realization. This is also your first year playing college ball without Noah by your side. It isn’t as easy now that he’s gone. You’ve missed him this year, haven’t you? I would too. The other guys underneath the basket haven’t really made your burden lighter. The perimeter shooters haven’t caused your opponents to not constantly double you.
Despite all that, you are averaging 18 points per game this season. The highest in your career and have held steady at 7.7 rebounds.
This team is on its way to the NIT, the worst scenario of your career. Unless, you go on a run in the conference tournament. Brandon, the only way this team wins in the conference tourney, is for you to really get it rollin’ in Vegas. It is impossible to win the tournament without you performing every game the way you did at St. Mary’s a week ago.
You can’t get into foul trouble. You need to dominate in the post. Set the tone physically. You have to lead the team in rebounds. This team goes as far as you take them. Take the reins. Finally take the reins.
Tonight, against #2 Gonzaga, it is your last chance to perform in the Marriot Center. I’ll be there. When they announce your name, I’ll cheer. It will be loud. When you are walking onto the floor with family, I’ll be thinking about a lot of things.
I’ll think about how my father-in-law, who works in the mall, talks about how you weren’t just a customer, but afterwards you would say hello. Just to be friendly. Or how my friend who owns Kneaders talks about how he can’t help but to cheer for BYU because you are on the team. "Just the nicest kid ever."
I’ll think about how you are likely going to finish 11th all time in scoring, 10th all time in rebounds, 5th all time in blocks, and 9th all-time in steals. Your career in-game highs of 33 points and 22 rebounds. I’ll think about you and Russell Larson being the only players ever in BYU history to finish a season averaging at least 1 of everything (points, rebounds, blocks, steals, assists). You are an all-time great.
I’ll think about how despite your being ranked top 10 in 4 of the 5 major statistical categories, you were never the best player on any of your teams. That’s crazy to me!
I’ll think about how your legacy on campus is more about the character and nature of BYU and its students rather than any athletic success.
I’ll think about how you carried yourself with dignity and respect though the toughest challenge any BYU athlete has ever faced.
You make me proud to be a Cougar. Just know, it’s been a little weird.
Keith Shirts, BYU Hoops nut.