Provo • From afar, it appears that BYU point guard Shaylee Gonzales is exceeding expectations, much like the Cougars themselves after a 6-0 start in West Coast Conference play.
But coach Jeff Judkins begs to differ. He knew the 5-foot-10 Gonzales was going to be a star in college more than four years ago when he offered the spunky 14-year-old phenom a scholarship after watching her dominate an elite camp at BYU in the summer of 2015.
“When I recruited her, I knew she was special,” Judkins said. “I offered her a scholarship at a young, young age. I don’t do that very often. … She could drive it, shoot it, score it, rebound it, and had a great feel for who was open. She had good quickness, and I knew she would get bigger and stronger. She had all the intangibles.”
Judkins, in his 18th season at BYU, told other coaches when Gonzales signed out of Mesquite High in Gilbert, Ariz., that she would be the newcomer of the year in the West Coast Conference and win conference player of the year honors before her career was over. She reminds Judkins of Andre Miller, the former NBA star he coached at Utah.
“You could tell she loved basketball, and was a gym rat,” Judkins said. “She was a perfect fit for us, because we lost Cassie [Broadhead Devashrayee] to graduation. Shaylee stepped right in and made an impact right away.”
Gonzales and the Cougars (14-3 overall) host the other top team in the WCC, No. 13-ranked Gonzaga (16-1, 5-0), on Thursday at the Marriott Center in a huge battle of league leaders. The game will be televised by BYUtv.
No. 13 GONZAGA AT BYU
When • Thursday, 7 p.m.
TV • BYUtv
“If we want to win this conference, we gotta win this game,” Judkins said.
If Gonzales plays well, the Cougars have a chance to pull off the upset, and she knows it. She leads the Cougars in scoring (17.6 ppg.) and rebounding (5.6 rpg.) and has scored in double figures in all 17 of her college outings. The freshman will often go against Gonzaga point guard Laura Stockton, daughter of former Utah Jazz great John Stockton, and she played against the Zags’ Wirth twins — Leeanne and Jenn — in high school.
“They’ve got tons of great players,” Gonzales said. “We have to come out and play our best if we want to win.”
Gonzales has been playing her best since she arrived in Provo last summer. She scored 16 points in her first game, off the bench against UC Riverside, and hasn’t stopped filling up the stat sheet. She’s the second-leading freshman scorer in the country, behind only Chrislyn Carr of Texas Tech, who averages 19.9.
“I did not see this coming,” Gonzales said. “My goal was to average 10 points a game as a freshman, so I’m exceeding that goal, and that’s exciting.”
Shaylee’s parents, Candice and Josh Gonzales, both played basketball at Grand Canyon University in the Phoenix area, which is where they met. Her four younger siblings — two brothers, two sisters — also play basketball and a variety of other sports.
“Basketball is a huge part of our lives,” she said.
Gonzales committed to BYU shortly after getting that offer back in 2015, but that didn’t keep other schools from pursuing the 2017 Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year who averaged 21.0 points and 7.7 rebounds her senior year of high school.
Oregon coach Kelly Graves, "my good friend, called me and said he was watching Shaylee and he said, ‘I am going to get her away from you.’” Judkins recalled. “And I go, ‘no you aren’t. She is pretty loyal. She won’t be that way.’”
And she wasn’t. Gonzales said her membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns and operates BYU, “is a big part of my life” and one of the major reasons she chose BYU.
“She could have gone anywhere in the Pac-12, no question,” Judkins said. “But she looked at the whole picture of it and thank goodness she made the decision to come here.”
“I just love being creative,” she said.
On the court, and off.
BYU FRESHMAN SHAYLEE GONZALES
• The 5-foot-10 guard averaged 21.0 points and 7.7 rebounds her senior year at Mesquite High in Gilbert, Ariz.
• Has scored in double figures in every college game she has played in and leads BYU with a 17.6 average
• Is the second-leading scorer in the country among freshman, trailing only Chrislyn Carr (19.9) of Texas Tech
• Also leads the team in rebounds (5.6 rpg.) and is tied for the team lead in assists (4.2 apg.)