COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NDSU’s Taylor Braun finishes on a high note
FARGO — It was last summer sometime when Taylor Braun contacted the best player to ever put on a North Dakota State men’s basketball uniform. There was one stipulation, said Ben Woodside: Be there at 6 a.m.
That’s the time of day when Woodside, currently playing professionally in Italy, started his offseason workouts at the Bison Sports Arena.
“Every day, he was there waiting for me to arrive,” Woodside said of Braun. “You know someone is dedicated and wants it more than anyone else when they make sacrifices, and that’s what Taylor did.”
Those sacrifices are not what most college coaches saw when Braun was a slender, 173-pound high school recruit in Newberg, Ore. His father, Wayne Braun, saw it all through Taylor’s growing years. His high school coach, Mark Vernon, told many recruiters that when they called.
Nobody really seemed to believe them.
“There was no doubt in my mind he was going to be a player,” Wayne Braun said. “I was his coach from third grade all the way through to eighth grade, and we played 50 games a year. I saw what he could do, and he’s doing the same stuff now. No one could stop him.”
That same stuff will be on display at 2 p.m. today when the Bison host South Dakota State. The eighth-leading scorer in school history, and climbing (he needs just 10 points to pass Mike Nelson), has only three home games remaining in his career.
Timing was everything for both Braun, NDSU
How he got from Oregon to NDSU is one of those right place, right time stories. Taylor was still an uncommitted player in the spring of his senior year.
His father said Portland State was calling him about once a week, but had yet to offer a scholarship. Three Pac-12 Conference schools offered him a walk-on opportunity. NDSU had one full ride remaining, but was hoping it had Nate Wolters’ name on it.
When Wolters – now playing in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks – committed to SDSU, the Bison went looking elsewhere.
NDSU head coach Saul Phillips said he received a couple of phone calls from contacts in the Pacific Northwest saying there was one player who was being overlooked.
“When Nate said no, we quickly brought him in for a visit,” Phillips said.
Taylor figures he was just days away from visiting Division II Western Oregon. And if that happened, Phillips said, he likely would have committed there.
It was during finals week when Taylor and Wayne flew to Fargo. The campus was dead. The aging BSA was nothing to admire. Taylor admits to having apprehension playing so far away – even though he has North Dakota roots.
His grandfather, Michael Schroeder, lives in Arthur, N.D. His mother, Kris, is from Ayr, N.D., and went to high school at what is now Northern Cass.
After dinner, Bison assistant coach Jason Kemp dropped Wayne off at a Fargo hotel and said he wanted to take Taylor for a milkshake to talk further.
“I wasn’t in the room five minutes when the phone rang and it was a Portland State coach,” Wayne said. “He was saying how much they love Taylor. I said, ‘OK, you either love him or you don’t, because I’m at North Dakota State. You have the opportunity now because I think he would rather stay in the Pacific Northwest.’ He said he couldn’t pull that trigger.”
It probably didn’t matter anyway. When Phillips said he offered Taylor the scholarship, the kid said on the spot that he would take it.
It was about as quick as an offer-turned-commitment gets.
“I knew I wanted to play Division I basketball, so I accepted it right there in his office,” Taylor said. “I went home, graduated, and two weeks later came back up here.”
Sitting out first season did wonders for Braun
It wasn’t instant success, by any means. Braun remembers the first few weeks of summer workouts with the likes of veteran players Freddy Coleman and Eric Carlson.
“I could barely even get a shot off,” he said. “So I definitely had a lot of work to do. To be honest, I didn’t have the best mindset and most positive attitude in coming here.”
The No. 1 priority as a redshirt freshman was improving his frame. There’s not much room for a slender players in Division I basketball after all. The leader in that project was strength and conditioning coach Jason Miller.
Phillips has said on more than one occasion that Braun is the poster child for a player redshirting. His progress was noticeable in his redshirt freshman season when he led the team in rebounding and was the fourth-leading scorer. He started 20 of 29 games.
He was a first team all-Summit League selection as a sophomore. An ankle injury limited him last year – he missed 10 games – but he still led the team in scoring at 15.4 points a game.
To find another level, he asked Woodside, who finished his career in 2009, if he could work out with him last summer. Both describe the workouts as intense.
“Mix that work ethic with his talent and you have a tremendous combination,” Woodside said. “I can see the improvements he made from this summer, and he’s carrying it over to this season and is having a spectacular year.”
He leads the Summit in scoring at 18.6 points per game and is ninth in rebounding with a 5.3 average. He’ll get some sort of shot at professional basketball, but Braun said he’s letting the Bison coaches deal with that for now.
One NBA scout has been to a Bison practice, which is a first in Phillips’ 10 years at NDSU, six as head coach. If the 6-foot-7 Braun’s resume says anything, it is to not doubt his chances at any next level.
“To go from zero scholarship offers to potentially Player of the Year in our conference … with Taylor, I was always confident he would make it,” Phillips said.