7-footer Branden Carlson has been a steadying force for inconsistent Utah basketball team
Former Bingham High star is playing the best basketball of his career after reemerging in Runnin’ Utes starting lineup; Utah plays at Colorado on Saturday afternoon in a key Pac-12 clash
Himself a tall man listed at 6-foot-9, Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak has seen a lot of 7-footers come and go during his career as a college and NBA standout and college and NBA coach.
Some of those giants play the game only because they are extraordinarily tall and people have told them throughout their whole life they should be playing basketball, Krystkowiak says.
Utes on the air
Utah (6-7, 3-6)
at Colorado (13-4, 7-3)
Saturday, 12:30 p.m. MST
Coors Event Center, Boulder, Colorado
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: 700 AM
Then there’s University of Utah sophomore Branden Carlson, a 7-foot sophomore generously listed at 219 pounds on the Utes’ 2020-21 roster.
“He doesn’t strike me as that type of person,” Krystkowiak says. “He still wants to play at a higher level than college. That’s the main thing. And he plays the game like he loves it. He is doing really well and I think he is trending in the right direction.”
A late bloomer who barely made the sophomore team at South Jordan’s Bingham High when he was 16 years old, Carlson genuinely enjoys playing basketball, coaches and teammates say. The shot-blocking ace has managed to keep a positive outlook even as the Utes (6-7, 3-6 Pac-12) have been mostly mediocre during his year and a half on the Hill.
“We just gotta continue to improve and not dwell on these losses,” Carlson said after Utah lost 83-79 at Washington last Sunday. “I definitely think we have tough players and a positive attitude and we will bounce back from this one.”
Currently in eighth place in the Pac-12 standings, Utah plays at third-place Colorado (13-4, 7-3) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon at Coors Event Center in Boulder. The Utah-CU rematch was to begin a rugged four-games-in-nine-days stretch for the Utes, but on Friday the Utah-Arizona State makeup game scheduled for Tuesday was postponed again for undisclosed reasons.
“When he is on the floor for us defensively, our numbers are really good. Here is a kid that, with his size, his athleticism, with his nice set of hands, has a nice skill set.” — Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak
So the Utes won’t play again after Saturday until Thursday vs. Arizona at the Huntsman Center. Utah announced Thursday that a “limited number” of family guests — four per player on both the home and visiting teams — will be allowed at the Huntsman Center, but the general public is still not allowed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Expect Carlson, who served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Manchester, England, before enrolling at Utah, and junior star Timmy Allen to lead the way if the Utes are going to turn the season around. Having started the past two games after coming off the bench the previous four, Carlson is playing his best basketball as a Ute, along with Allen.
Carlson went 7 of 12 for 14 points and added 10 rebounds and two blocks in the win over Washington State on Jan. 21, then popped in a career-high 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting in the loss at UW.
“He has had a great couple of weeks here for us,” Krystkowiak said. “Better practice has led to better performance. … I know in speaking with him, his mindset is different. I think that is part of the college process. You go through enough highs and lows, and I think he has overcome some things, and is playing in a good place right now, and really confident and doing a nice job protecting the rim.”
Defense and shot-blocking have been Carlson’s strengths since his freshman year, when he started nine games and collected 43 blocked shots and averaged 7.0 points per game. This season he’s had 24 blocks through 13 games, while boosting his scoring average to 7.8 in just over 20 minutes per game.
Carlson has knocked down several mid-range jumpers, while also making a 3-pointer in the Washington game.
“When he is on the floor for us defensively, our numbers are really good,” Krystkowiak said. “Here is a kid that, with his size, his athleticism, with his nice set of hands, has a nice skill set.”
Said point guard Rylan Jones: “BC is getting his mojo back.”
One of six Utahns on a team that also includes six international players, Carlson married Maddy Woolf of Herriman last July.
As far as Carlson’s future is concerned, Krystkowiak said anything is possible for a 7-footer who “runs like a deer” and has a drive and a passion for the game.
It is no secret that coaches would like to see Carlson put on more weight. But that’s not as easy as it seems for an athlete who is constantly in motion.
“He’s got to be a heckuva lot closer to 230 (pounds) than he is to 200,” Krystkowiak said. “It is really hard to sustain, with the level of physicality that our game has. That is probably the biggest thing. That additional weight will help him in a lot of ways.”
Carlson says it “would be cool” to join a fellow Bingham Miner in the pros some day. At Bingham, he played behind Yoeli Childs, who was a year ahead of him.
Of course, Childs was named the Deseret News’ Mr. Basketball his senior season before starring at BYU for four years. Childs is currently playing for the Washington Wizards’ affiliate in the G League.
The year after Childs left for BYU, Carlson led Bingham to a state championship, signing with the Utes just before his senior season kicked off.
“I am just going to keep working on my game and see where it takes me,” Carlson said last month.
Because this is a 7-footer that really enjoys being here.