Freshman Baxter takes flight for men’s basketball

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It took longer than some fans had hoped, but when freshman Gavin Baxter made his first start for the Cougars against Loyola Marymount on Feb. 2, it was clear the highly-touted Timpview recruit was worth the wait. The 6-foot-9 forward scored 25 points with 10 rebounds, two blocks and a number of ferocious dunks to highlight one of the Cougars’ best all-around performances of the season.

Baxter has averaged 13 points on 69 percent shooting with nearly seven rebounds and two blocks in three starts this season. Prior to Jan. 17, however, Baxter had played just seven minutes a game on the back end of head coach Dave Rose’s rotation.

Arianna Davidson
Gavin Baxter emphatically dunks the ball during BYU’s matchup against Santa Clara on Jan. 12. (Arianna Davidson)

“I wasn’t as involved in the beginning of the year, but I decided to work harder and put in extra shots after practice,” Baxter said. “When the position opened up, I was able to come in and contribute more.”

According to BYU assistant coach Quincy Lewis, Baxter’s work ethic has remained strong and consistent since joining the team this past spring following his mission in the Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia area.

“When Gavin got off his mission, that guy was here all day before and after practice. He takes extra time with film work or just going over plays, so he’s really put forth the effort,” Lewis said. “It’s been really fun to see how he’s improved since he’s been here. It’s been little by little, and now that he’s finally ready, he’s made a really nice contribution.”

Baxter’s teammates have recognized his work ethic and love for the game.

“Gavin is a great teammate. He’s actually a pretty quiet guy but he’s goofy, funny and someone that wants to work hard and get better,” forward Yoeli Childs said. “Gavin is so eager to absorb everything he learns to get better. He’s going to be an unbelievable player.”

Childs and Baxter, who were teammates when they were 16, have paired to become a formidable front court duo on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

“Gavin is so athletic that he can go get balls that nobody else can. That’s been nice for Yoeli to play with since he’s a similar player with that length,” Lewis said.

Childs agrees that working in tandem with Baxter has benefitted both players and the team as a whole.

“His length helps a lot. It’s huge when both of us go for those offensive rebounds because it’s a lot to handle for an opposing team. Or when I block a shot, he has the help side rebound and vice versa,” Childs said. “He’s done a great job of drawing the defense away from me a little bit, and his ability to catch lobs and work inside has made opposing defenses more honest.”

During Baxter’s coming out party against Loyola Marymount, the ROC student section chanted his name tirelessly throughout the night, with Baxter even clapping along on the court at times.

“It’s awesome. Just knowing that the fans like to watch me play makes me really want to go out there and give it my all. More than anything else for me, it’s a confidence booster,” Baxter said.

For the Provo native and former high school all-state honoree, playing in his backyard at BYU has been a dream come true.

“I love Utah,” Baxter said. “I love the energy and environment here at BYU, and to be here is just a great experience.”

Lewis feels Baxter isn’t even close to his ceiling and has plenty of room to continue to grow as a player.

“He’s working as hard today as he is when he first got here,” Lewis said. “He isn’t fatigued mentally or physically, and I would expect that he will continue to improve.”

With a critical stretch to finish the season and hopefully lock up the second seed in the conference tournament, Baxter hopes to continue the team’s current rhythm.

“Obviously we want to come out in these last few games and make sure we’re playing defense the way we know how,” Baxter said. “As long as we do that, the offense will take care of itself.”

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