Blue Blood: Zylstra key for BYU in late-season NIT run

COMMENTARY – There’s no doubt BYU will miss flamboyant center Brandon Davies, who is playing his final days as a Cougar. Many fans speak wistfully of the unfulfilled potential of Stephen Rogers and Chris Collinsworth, who are also done at BYU.

Brock Zylstra
Brock Zylstra

But I haven’t heard a single person say they were going to miss Brock Zylstra.

The 6-foot-6, 210-pound senior from La Verne, Calif., averaged eight points, four rebounds and two assists this season – not exactly game-changing numbers. He didn’t get steals (less than one a game) or blocks (four all year). His 3-point and free throw shooting were average (37 and 74 percent, respectively).

Heck, there were times when he would take an ill-advised shot and I could hear myself yelling, “Whattaya doing? Don’t shoot that crap!”

But despite his shortcomings, real or perceived, I’m going to miss Brock Zylstra. I have two reasons: First, he’s a backbone guy, a player that gets in there and works his tail off and contributes despite rarely getting any headlines; And second, he always had the potential to have a game like he did last night against Southern Mississippi.

Coach Dave Rose will tell you that every team needs stars, guys who can shoot lights out (Tyler Haws), pound it in the post (Brandon Davies) or change the game with a long trey or breakaway basket (Matt Carlino). But every team also needs guys like Zylstra. He played a good many minutes this year at power forward, a position he was undersized for and yet he still made some big plays. He watched as Carlino came in last year and stole headlines. He watched as Haws came in this year and stole headlines. And yet, he kept plugging along.

Last season he had four 20-plus point games and looked to be on the edge of stardom. But he faded late in the season and scored just 17 points in BYU’s final three games, two of which were losses.

So this year fans hoped Zylstra might take that next step and become the Cougars next big scorer. Instead, Tyler Haws emerged as a more consistent and aggressive shooter and Zylstra faded back into the shadows.

But he never stopped pushing and trying and contributing.

As for that breakout potential, well Zylstra showed every bit of it last night against USM, especially in the first half. He made five 3-pointers before the intermission, leaving a stunned crowd of Golden Eagles fans and players wondering who these nerds from Provo were.

Zylstra made 5 of 9 from beyond the arc, grabbed 10 rebounds (his first career double-double) and even dished out four assists. He finished with 23 points and even had a dunk in the game. He fulfilled, at least for one night, his tremendous potential and BYU reaped the benefits, beating a good team in their building quite handily.

So what does it mean going forward? Do Athos, Porthos and Aramis finally have a d’Artagnan? Probably not. After all, BYU only has one or two games left.

But the simple truth is that BYU is better when Brock Zylstra plays well.

The Cougars play a familiar foe in the semifinals of the NIT in Madison Square Garden next Tuesday. BYU will face Baylor, a team that whipped the Cougars 79-64 in Waco, Tex., just before Christmas. Davies played great in that game, while Haws and Carlino were just OK. Zylstra? Well, he played just 11 minutes and had more fouls (3) than he did points (2).

For his sake and for BYU’s sake, Zylstra will have to be better than that if the Cougars are going to make the finals of the NIT.

~

Andy Griffin is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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