Antelopes’ ‘Mr. Big Shot’ Ready for Start of New Basketball Season
By Bob Romantic
GCU News Bureau
Braylon Pickrel doesn’t see himself as a big man on campus. And the good-natured 6-foot-10 senior forward certainly doesn’t act like one.
But try convincing the countless number of students, staff and faculty who now treat him as such.
That’s what one shot can do, especially when that shot is a 3-pointer at the buzzer that beats your biggest rival in the last game of the regular season. Oh, and it also sends your team to the NCAA Division II men’s basketball tournament.
Yes, that shot.
The “Shot Heard ‘Round the Campus” on March 3 against Dixie State College was the last thing basketball fans at GCU saw last season, when Pickrel clapped his hands, yelled for the ball, took an inbounds pass from Nick Witherill with 1.5 seconds left on the clock and let loose a high-arching shot that found nothing but net and sent GCU Arena into pandemonium.
As the Antelopes get set to take their home court for the first time since that shot – for an exhibition game Monday night at 6:30 against The Master’s College – the excitement surrounding Pickrel’s clutch game-winner has died down.
But not by much.
Footage of the shot was a prominent part of a GCU video shown during graduation ceremonies in May – and two months later, it still brought goose bumps.
As players were introduced during an all-employee meeting at the Arena on Aug. 6, Pickrel was the last to be introduced by Head Coach Russ Pennell – and again the crowd went nuts.
For Pickrel — a humble, unassuming person with a good sense of humor — the sudden surge of attention has definitely impacted his life.
“The biggest change is people now know I’m on the team,” said Pickrel, only half-joking.
“Last year, I hung out with Kyle Speed a lot. Kyle was the face of the team with everyone on campus. All the time, people would bump into us and say, ‘Hey Kyle, great game last night!’ I’m pretty sure I was there and played, too, probably even started.
“One game I had pretty close to a double-double. It was like 15 points and eight or nine rebounds. Kyle had a good game, too. The next day, they come up to Kyle and say, ‘Oh, Kyle, you guys did so good last night, la, la, la, and just acted like I wasn’t even there. I was like, ‘Yup, my name is Braylon. I’m on the team.’ Kyle got a kick out of it — he thought it was great. We laugh about it all the time.”
Pickrel shares the story with not even the slightest bit of resentment, but more as an example of how times have changed in seven months.
He began his junior year as a player who averaged just 5.8 minutes per game as a sophomore. But he finished the year as the Antelopes’ second-leading scorer at 10.3 points per game, the leading rebounder with 6.7 per game, their most accurate shooter with a 57.8 field-goal percentage, and, as it turns out, a pretty darn good shooter in the clutch with their entire season on the line.
“At the time, we felt that shot put us in the NCAA tournament,” Pennell said. “From that standpoint, we were proud of the fact that he would take that shot at that moment and make such a clutch play. Hopefully, it started a run of opportunities to play in the NCAA tournament and pursue our goal to win a national championship.
“I think it also was a culmination of our staff and our players saying we have a certain way we’re going to go about recruiting and putting this program together, and that shot kind of validated what we’ve been trying to do.”
Pickrel said he has seen replays of the shot at least 50 times but initially couldn’t remember much of what happened.
“I remember clapping for the ball, and I remember when Nick looked at me and threw it. But I don’t really remember shooting it or watching it through the air. I don’t even remember what it looked like going in. After it fell through, I was just gone, I was going crazy. I don’t even know where I was running to. If the other side of the crowd hadn’t stopped me, I’d probably still be running.”
The day after the shot, Pickrel said “pretty much half of GCU requested me as a friend on Facebook.” Not normally someone who adds Facebook friends unless he knows them pretty well, he didn’t want to “look like a jerk or anything for deleting requests on Facebook. So I said, ‘All right, we’ll triple my Facebook friends list.’ I went from about 120 friends to 350 in a day and a half.”
Pickrel is not your typical college athlete. He’s a self-described homebody who enjoys going back to his North Rim apartment and spending time with his wife, Danielle, and their 6½-month-old son, Decklan.
Danielle was still pregnant during the Dixie game, which can be a nerve-wracking situation when you’re weeks away from delivery.
“As his wife, I was feeling a lot of stress. Everybody kept asking me, ‘Are you OK? Is the baby OK?’” Danielle said. “I was praying that it wouldn’t fall on Braylon’s shoulders … but I was super proud of him and the team.”
The extra attention Pickrel now receives isn’t limited to his newfound circle of Facebook friends or others who want to feel a connection to him. His teammates also get in on the act in a good-natured way.
“I like to call him Mr. Big Shot or the Golden Boy or Mr. Perfect,” said junior guard Dillon Currier, who keeps things loose on the team and began calling Pickrel “9/11” after he went 9-for-11 from the field and had 19 points in a game against the Division I University of Nevada at Las Vegas last season.
“And One-Hit Wonder, I like that one,” Currier added. “Braylon is super humble and modest. He never wants to take credit for anything, so sometimes I like to rile him up.
“He has definitely gotten a little more popular since the shot, although I don’t know if he likes that.”
For Pickrel’s part, he is quick to point out that there were plenty of key moments that led up to the last-second shot.
“People hardly ever bring up the 3-pointer that Kyle had with 40 seconds left. We were down by five and without that there wouldn’t have been a 1.5-second shot. We had a steal, and a turnover. And then there’s that jump ball that, if that wouldn’t have happened, it would have been over.
“I like the memory — it’s great,” he added. “I can’t say I don’t appreciate it when people talk to me about it, but when there’s too much credit for it, I’m not all right with that, I guess.
“I’m definitely ready to put it behind me and move on to the next season and start the next chapter.”
Contact Bob Romantic at 639.7611 or email@example.com.