Point guard Brandon Taylor measures up, despite the odds

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By Griffin Adams

UTAH vs Colorado 14         UTAH vs Colorado 10

When Utah guard Brandon Taylor was just a kid, it was pretty clear he wanted to play basketball. Taylor’s grandmother, Catherine Taylor, recalled an instance where her grandson demanded a basketball at the age of two.

“He made me go buy him a portable basket for the house so that I could put it on the door,” Catherine said. “He was always playing with it.”

Just like Brandon demanded a basketball as a little kid, he is now demanding attention on the court. The California native is in the midst of his best season in Salt Lake City, helping the Runnin’ Utes get off to one of their best starts in recent memory.

For Catherine, it’s no surprise to see her grandson out there doing his thing and doing it well. While there are a number of people Brandon would like to credit for his success at Utah, his grandmother was the first to come to mind.

“I talk to my G-Ma almost every game,” Brandon said. “She is going to tell me what she thinks and tell me what’s real. Whether I want to hear it or not, she’s always in my corner. She’s my comfort zone … If things are going wrong, I’m on the phone with her.”

However, it has been a difficult road for Brandon. Measuring in at just 5-foot-10 for 167 pounds, he isn’t your cookie-cutter point guard that most NCAA coaches look for out of high school.

“There’s been some that have counted me out at the next level because of my size,” Brandon said. “There were some coaches that were recruiting me and say, ‘We’re going to go with this guy, he’s more lengthy,’ but it’s all cool. I’m a believer and I have a lot of faith in myself.”

Brandon played for Ivan Barahona at Pacific Hills High School, where he dominated to the tune of 19.8 points, 7.5 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game his senior season. However, even though Brandon led the Bruins to a high school state championship, Barahona doubted his point guard could play at the Division-I level.

“Brandon has proved everyone wrong, myself included,” Barahona said. “We sat down and talked, and I told him, ‘I don’t know if you can play at that level, I don’t know if it’s possible.’”

And he may have been right, at the time. After the conclusion of his junior season, Barahona said that Brandon had one offer from Wayne State — a Division-II school.

Instead of giving up on a dream that he has had since he was two years old, Brandon decided to use the doubt as motivation. According to Barahona, Brandon became a student of the game and began to use his smaller size to his advantage.

Just look at Utah, for example. Alongside Brandon in the starting backcourt is 6-foot-5 phenom Delon Wright, who stands a full seven inches taller than his counterpart. While the height difference is obvious, Brandon never steps out on the hardwood feeling he is at a disadvantage, especially on the defensive end.

“I don’t think I’m out-sized,” he said. “I don’t look at it like that. I want to stay as glued to my man as possible. Other guys don’t want defenders all over them. I think my quickness helps too.”

So what is it about Brandon that makes him successful at the NCAA level?

“One of the strongest players I’ve ever had, so mentally strong, ever since he was a freshman,” Barahona said. “We rode him really tough. Any kid would have backed down, but not Brandon. He knew the plan that was set for him, and he completely bought in.”

That hard-nosed play is evident any time Brandon plays the game. From tenacious defense to pull-up jumpers, there is no doubt that the point guard plays with a passion that is rare. Most, if not all, collegiate athletes have some sort of competitive edge in them, but what Brandon has is something you see sparingly in the college basketball world.

“There has never been an ounce of fear going against someone that’s bigger than me,” Brandon said.

Growing up, there were a number of smaller guards in the NBA or NCAA that Taylor could have modeled his game after, but hailing from Los Angeles, he decided to steal some moves from none other than “The Black Mamba.”

“Kobe Bryant,” Brandon said when asked who he emulates. “I grew up watching Kobe Bryant, Shaq, all that. He was such an influence on my life, not only his game, but his work ethic — his attitude towards the game. That’s something I wanted to emulate … His thought-process is amazing.”

While Brandon has a long way to go before he reaches Bryant-status, it’s clear he has made steps in that direction. When preparing for a game, Brandon mentioned how thinking less is the preferred method for him.

“You’ll psyche yourself out,” he said. “This is something I’ve been doing for a long time, so now all I think is, ‘Okay, I’ve got a defensive assignment.’ I gotta do what I gotta do. It’s a natural thing … Win, lose or draw, if I go out and do what I had to do, and I went hard at it, I’m happy with myself.”

Brandon went from California to Utah, a popular path taken by many athletes here at the U. Despite being nearly 700 miles away from his hometown, Brandon has never forgotten his roots. Catherine says Brandon basically grew up in her household, and she has seen him mature not only as a basketball player, but as a young man.

“Brandon has not allowed anything to come in his way to stop him from his future,” Catherine said. “I’m very proud of that young man, very proud … I always let him know I love him unconditionally, good day or bad day … Every day you get up, everything that you accomplish, you thank God.”

After experimenting with the thought of how good he would be if he was 6-foot-5, Brandon can’t even fathom the idea of him being any different, and his grandmother is someone he can thank for that.

“I’m grateful,” Brandon said. “God makes you who you are for a reason. I just can’t see myself any other way. I’ve been like this all my life.”

In the end, it is obvious that Brandon was destined to play the game, no matter the size. From shooting hoops on a toy basket in his “G-Ma’s” house to shutting down opponents on the national stage, Brandon has become a well-recognized name not only in Salt Lake City, but around the country.

No matter how big he gets or who he meets, Brandon’s motivation will stay the same.

“That’s his life,” Barahona said of Brandon’s grandmother. “I’m pretty sure she is the driving force behind everything he does … His driving force is that he wants to succeed so that he can help his grandmother out. He loves her very much.”

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@GriffDoug