December 6, 2012
The basketball story of Taylor Broekhuis all takes place in Colorado Springs.
He was born at Memorial Hospital. He was dunking by the eighth grade. In his senior season, he led Colorado Springs Christian School to the 3A state final while averaging 17.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and five blocks.
He was recruited by Colorado State and Denver, but chose to take his lanky 6-foot-9 frame to the Air Force Academy, where he has endured, along with the rest of his teammates, three seasons of peril and pain.
The Falcons have lost 36 of 46 Mountain West Conference games. They lost to crosstown rival Colorado College. Broekhuis has suffered a broken nose, concussion, injured right leg and badly bruised ego.
Which leads us to this question:
Can this thoroughly local basketball story be blessed with a satisfactory ending?
“I think it’s the beginning of a turn,” Broekhuis said Thursday as he relaxed on a couch a few minutes before the Falcons' afternoon practice. “I don’t think we’ve quite made that turn, but the turn is about to happen. Everyone is right there.”
There is reason for optimism. On Sunday, the Falcons came close to upsetting No. 23 Wichita State before falling, 72-69. The game offered a glimpse of Broekhuis’ large collection of skills.
He scored 17 points, sinking 6-of-9 shots while fooling Wichita State’s brawny big men, who never knew if Broekhuis would shoot with his left or right hand. This multi-hand attack is the result of diligent labor by Broekhuis, who has always embraced a strong work ethic.
Coach Dave Pilipovich shook his head with admiration as he talked about Broekhuis.
“He gives you everything,” Pilipovich said. “Any time he comes out of a game, he’s drained.”
It’s also the result of natural gifts. Broekhuis eats, writes and brushes his teeth with his left hand. He’s virtually ambidextrous.
He has a considerable upside. Broekhuis can dribble, with either hand, through traffic. He has a decent touch from the 3-point line. He led the Mountain West in blocked shots last season.
Yet the Wichita State loss also revealed Broekhuis’s limitations. He seized only two rebounds, both defensive, and missed 5-of-10 free throws. He took his team close to victory, but he didn’t quite arrive at the desired destination. This has been the norm during his career.
Still, Broekhuis is optimistic. He’s part of an all-senior starting lineup, and this frustrated quintet want to show they are better than their record indicates.
This is a new day for the program. Pilipovich, in his first full season, has installed a fast-paced offense that encourages improvisation. Fast-paced has seldom been a description for anything about Air Force basketball.
“There’s a different kind of energy in our gym,” Broekhuis said. “There’s a sense of urgency. Coach brings a lot more energy to practice, and enthusiasm.”
Broekhuis had never played on a losing basketball team before he arrived at the academy, where he’s learned far too much about the brutal lessons of defeat.
He’s striving for that elusive satisfactory ending. With UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico and Florida lurking in his near future, he knows the path to good times will not be an easy one.