Provo • Whenever there is a sporting event happening on campus, BYU basketball player Payton Dastrup is usually there on the front row, cheering his heart out for his fellow Cougar athletes.
“I have been a bleed-blue guy since birth, pretty much,” explained the Mesa, Ariz., native.
Unfortunately for the enthusiastic Arizonan, that cheerleader role has often extended to men’s basketball games, with him in uniform. The 6-foot-10 Dastrup has failed to get a lot of playing time despite being a top-100 prep recruit in 2014, before a church mission to Panama.
Things were different in the second half of Saturday’s 77-65 win over Utah, however.
Idaho State at BYU
When • Thursday, 7 p.m.
TV • BYUtv
With fellow big man Yoeli Childs hobbled by a leg cramp and three other BYU bigs in street clothes behind the bench, Dastrup showed the promise that accompanied him out of Mesa’s Mountain View High, and just might have turned the corner on his lackluster career at BYU.
The sophomore drew a charge, scored off his own miss after an impressive drive to the hoop, and made two big 3-pointers in eight minutes in the second half to help BYU beat Utah.
“My guy Payt, he has been ready since he was 3 to play in this game,” said BYU’s Elijah Bryant, who led all scorers with a season-high 29 points.
With the Cougars now missing three inside players — sophomore Dalton Nixon is out indefinitely with a foot injury and Braiden Shaw (ankle) and Ryan Andrus (knee) still haven’t played yet — coach Dave Rose said coaches spent a lot of time with Dastrup preparing for the Utah game, and the big guy delivered.
“Payton is a guy who has given us good minutes this year,” Rose said. “He helped us win the UMass game back in New York [with four points and five rebounds in 11 minutes] and we knew he would play minutes tonight, just because of Utah’s size.”
It is kind of a mystery why Dastrup doesn’t play more than 6.1 minutes per game, because the numbers show he’s one of the most productive players on the team, offensively and defensively.
He didn’t even get off the bench against Weber State, and logged just six minutes combined against Illinois State and Utah State before that. Rose has generally pointed to matchup problems or Dastrup’s conditioning level when asked why.
“To be able to get a chance to experience the rivalry first hand, to play in this game, to come through clutch in some situations, knock down a couple shots and be there for my team was special, and I will never forget this moment,” Dastrup said after his finest moment as a Cougar. “I am just glad we got a signature win against a really good team.”
It certainly beats waving a towel, or any of those other celebratory antics from the bench — like his boat-rowing move — for which Dastrup has come to be known.
“That felt great,” he said. “I have always been a team-first guy. Last season, it was hard to do. This season it has been difficult at times, but I know when I get my chance, like tonight, like against UMass, I am going to be able to come through and make the most of it.
“I know the coaches can continue to give me a little bit more trust every single game,” Dastrup continued. “Ultimately, I just had to do it for my guys, because they’ve got my back and I’ve got their back and we are in this together.”
It is that togetherness, chemistry, cohesion or whatever you want to call it that seems to make this BYU team better than last year’s, despite the loss of Eric Mika, Nick Emery, Davin Guinn and Jamal Aytes, who is playing well for Southern Utah.
The Cougars (9-2) host Idaho State on Thursday and Texas Southern on Saturday and could realistically be 11-2 and back to their familiar place on the NCAA Tournament bubble when West Coast Conference play begins the week after Christmas.
“I give all the credit to our guys,” Rose said. “These guys are determined that we want to be relevant. That’s a really good start, to this point.”
Payton Dastrup’s season
• Went 3 for 4 from the field, including 2 for 2 from 3-point range, and scored eight points in eight second-half minutes against Utah
• Was also an integral part of BYU’s 68-66 win over UMass with four points and five rebounds in 11 minutes.
• Is averaging 2.9 points and 1.5 rebounds in 6.1 minutes per game, after getting just 4.3 minutes per game his freshman season.