SALT LAKE CITY — Jaxon Brenchley is just a freshman for the Utah basketball team, but already he has accomplished something no other college basketball player likely can claim.

He’s beaten former NBA MVP Derrick Rose one on one.

That’s right. In fact, it was a couple of years back, when Brenchley beat Rose to 21 while he was in Las Vegas playing in an AAU tournament. 

“That’s my claim to fame. He came to a party where we were playing pingpong. It was winners stay on and he showed up and I beat him. He was cool about it, and said, ‘Good game bro.’” — Utah freshman Jaxon Brenchley

OK, it was in pingpong, but hey, he beat Derrick Rose.

“That’s my claim to fame,” Brenchley recounted. “He came to a party where we were playing pingpong. It was winners stay on and he showed up and I beat him. He was cool about it, and said, ‘Good game bro.’”

Brenchley says he’s also “by far” the best pingpong player on the Utah basketball team, which he proved last summer at a team retreat.

While he can’t say he’s the best basketball player on the team, the 6-foot-5 guard has played better in his freshman season than a lot of people expected and has been a big part of the Utes’ 14-11 season.

The Utes, who are just 5-8 in Pac-12 play, are happy to be home this week, where they are 10-1 this season, for games against UCLA Thursday (8:30 p.m.) and USC Sunday (4 p.m.).  

Utah Utes guard Jaxon Brenchley (5) shoots unguarded for three during the second half of an NCAA mens basketball game at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. Utah defeated Central Arkansas 98-67. | Colter Peterson, Deseret News

Brenchley got off to a hot start with a 4-for-4 performance from 3-point range in Utah’s second game of the season against Mississippi Valley State and was one of the first players off the bench during the preseason and early part of the Pac-12 season. Then late last month, he was thrust into a starting role last month when Both Gach went down with a leg injury. He scored six points as a starter in four different games and was a key to the Utes’ overtime win over Stanford, when he hit a key 3-pointer from the corner, then passed off to Branden Carlson on a drive for a clinching dunk.

After five starts, he went back to the bench for Sunday’s game at Oregon but is still a big part of the Utes’ plans this year and in the years to come for a Ute team that features 11 freshmen and four sophomores.

“If you look at Jaxon, he doesn’t look like a freshmen,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “He doesn’t have a freshman’s body. He’s a strong kid, he’s physical and he can shoot the ball.” 

More than once, Krystkowiak has talked about the difficulties of being a freshman and said Brenchley and other freshmen had a “deer-in-the-headlights” look around Christmastime, but have bounced back.

“It’s really hard for freshmen. People don’t quite understand how hard it is,” Krystkowiak said. “The best way to improve and get experience is to be out on the court.” 

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Although he’s a true freshman, Brenchley is one of the older players on the team because he served a mission to Taiwan for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for two years.

He returned at the start of last summer and has found the adjustment a little more challenging than he expected. 

“It’s been kind of tough, but it’s been a blast and I love being with my guys and playing in the Pac-12,” he said. “That’s been my dream and it’s been a good ride so far.”

Jaxon Brenchley, Mountain Crest | Photo courtesy Craig J. Peterson

In high school, Brenchley played for Mountain Crest High School in Cache Valley for three years where he made big improvements each year before playing at the new Ridgeline High School as a senior. After averaging 19.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists while leading his team to the 3A state title, he was selected first-team all-State as well as being named Mr. Basketball by the Deseret News.

In a Deseret News story, one 3A coach described Brenchley’s playing style as “unselfish to a fault,” and his own coach Graydon Buchmiller said, “Jaxon has really bought in wholeheartedly to the whole team concept of doing whatever is needed.” 

Brenchley considered Utah State, Santa Clara, UVU as well as Ivy League schools Cornell and Penn before deciding on Utah.

He’s has been on a parallel path with fellow Ute freshman Branden Carlson, who has made great strides in recent games. The two played on the same AAU team together before their senior high school seasons, then they both left on church missions directly after graduating from high school in 2017. Both returned within a week of each other last May and began working out together. Now the two are roommates.

When he was younger, Brenchley lived in China for many of his elementary school years, which helped him on his mission, since he spoke the same language he was familiar with as a youngster.

“My dad worked in Shanghai for five years when I was younger,” he said. “I was there from ages 5 to 10, so I can still remember it and have good memories. It was a good experience for myself.”

Besides being proficient at pingpong, Brenchley also excels at tennis, as he won the state No. 3 singles title in high school, again helping his team to a state championship.

For now, he’s leaving the racket sports behind and concentrating on basketball. 

“I’m looking forward to the future,” he said. “The next three years are going to be a blast. We’re all freshmen, the chemistry off the court is really good, we’re connected and it’s really fun.”