Provo • The first field goal of BYU freshman Gavin Baxter’s college basketball career was a dunk, but the moment he realized “it was about to get real” came a couple hours before that.
“Rolling up to the arena [at No. 7 Nevada], knowing we were playing a top-10 team, knowing the type of talent we were going up against, that was pretty nerve-wracking,” Baxter said. “That’s when it hit me, and to be honest, I got pretty nervous.”
The Cougars (1-1) and Baxter return to the court Tuesday night (7 p.m., BYUtv) to face Northwestern State in the second of six straight home games. The Demons of Natchitoches, La., are 1-1, having knocked off Centenary in their opener before falling by just 11 at SMU last Thursday.
Baxter, a 6-foot-9 returned missionary from nearby Timpview High, finished with four points, four rebounds and a blocked shot in 15 minutes in the 86-70 loss in Reno. In Friday’s 75-65 win over Utah Valley, the freshman played just 11 minutes, but grabbed six rebounds, blocked a shot and scored two points.
Coach Dave Rose has been pleased with Baxter’s progress.
“He is still in a situation where he is trying to think about where he is supposed to be, and what his responsibility is in the system,” Rose said. “But when it comes down to making an individual play, as far as going and getting a rebound, or blocking a shot, I think his feel is really good. Hopefully he can just get better and better with the minutes that he plays and become more comfortable.”
Against Nevada, Baxter got another welcome to college basketball moment when he was asked to guard the Wolf Pack’s sensational senior forward, Jordan Caroline, a preseason All-America candidate, on a couple Nevada possessions. Caroline finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds.
“He was playing against a really physical, strong, determined guy,” Rose said of Baxter. “At times it looked like he would give a little more resistance. But I thought he played well.”
Baxter was a four-star prospect out of Timpview, and called the 63rd best prospect in the class of 2016 by Rivals.com. When he returned last May from his mission to Washington, D.C., he had gained 15-20 pounds and grown an inch.
BYU star forward Yoeli Childs, who had played on the same Utah Prospects team with Baxter when they were both in high school, played a couple pickup games with him and proclaimed on Twitter that Baxter was going to be “the most athletic player BYU has ever seen.”
At BYU’s media day last month, Childs called Baxter “an electrifying player” who was going to make Cougar fans forget about his own dunking ability.
“He will make some unbelievable plays because he’s an unbelievable athlete,” Childs said. “He’s going to impact games on both ends, but especially on the defensive end because he’s so long and athletic.”
BYU coaches have measured Baxter’s wingspan at 7-foot-3.
Baxter’s mother, Angela, was an All-American sprinter for BYU and his father, Kurt, played basketball for the Cougars.
“My mom and dad are both really good athletes,” Gavin Baxter said. “When it comes to athletic genes, I think I hit the jackpot.”
When it came to picking a college, Baxter considered several options, but said in the end he couldn’t turn down the hometown team and the best fit for him and his family.
As for his debut, he settled down after some tense opening moments.
“Once I got into that Nevada game, the nerves kinda eased off,” he said. “But it was still something I’ll never forget. Not many people get the opportunity to start their careers off that way — against a top-10 team.”
Or with a dunk.
NORTHWESTERN STATE AT BYU
At the Marriott Center, Provo
Tipoff • Tuesday, 7 p.m.
TV • BYUtv
Radio • KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 1-1, Northwestern State 1-1
Series history • First Meeting
About the Demons • They opened the season with a 102-62 win at home over Division III Centenary and a 69-58 loss at SMU last Thursday. … Senior center Ishmael Lane, a preseason All-Southland Conference selection, had 24 points and 13 rebounds in the loss to the Mustangs. … Coach Mike McConathy is in his 20th year at the helm. … This is the first of four-straight road games. They don’t play at home again until Nov. 23 against Alabama A&M.
About the Cougars • Tuesday’s game is the first part of the Men Against Breast Cancer Cougar Cup. The tourney continues Thursday against Oral Roberts. … In Friday’s 75-65 win over Utah Valley, Yoeli Childs had his second-straight double-double — 20 points and 15 rebounds — and TJ Haws 23 points on 8 of 13 shooting. The Cougars assisted on 18 of their 26 field goals.