December 20, 2012 6:14 AM
UCSB freshman Taran Brown was literally born to play basketball.
His first experience in a game actually came 20 years ago for North Dakota's Jamestown College.
"My mom played while she was pregnant with me, all the way up until she was six months along," Brown said. "She obviously had to drop out after she had me, but she told me that she was still playing even after she got pretty big, and I thought that was pretty cool."
The basketball doesn't fall far from the tree of Kris and Todd Brown, because it's not easy to slow down their son, either. He will return to his home state on Friday to play unbeaten Wyoming, averaging a team-high 30.4 minutes per game even though he's only a red-shirt freshman.
"He's an incredibly resilient kid," UCSB coach Bob Williams said. "That's the No. 1 trait - besides his being such a great athlete - that will really carry him."
Brown, a 6-foot-8 wing player, is already carrying a big load for the Gauchos. He ranks second on the team in scoring (13.6-point average), 3-pointers (27), rebound average (5.8), assists (25) and blocked shots (13), and he's tops in steals with 11.
But he also thinks he should be doing more.
"There are times when I get down on myself and think I'm not doing enough and helping out," Brown said. "You're going to have your slumps like that your first year, but it's definitely getting better game by game."
He bounced back from a tough opener at LSU to score 22 points at Illinois State.
"Maybe it's a strength at times when you're a little bit stubborn, and he's stubborn," Williams said. "It's not always easy to convince him of what he's supposed to do, but the good thing about stubborn people is that, boy, they're usually very competitive, and they keep banging.
"He's one of these guys who can play poorly for 30 minutes and then be phenomenal for the next six, and that takes a lot of resolve."
He knows where he got it from.
"My mom is an amazing woman, and I appreciate what she gave up for me and did the right things," Brown said. "We used to shoot around a little bit when I was young. She can still shoot pretty well, actually."
Brown wound up winning Mr. Wyoming Basketball honors, leading Gillette High to the state title. Wyoming wasn't the best place to get noticed by the scouts, but it helped UCSB that assistant coach Matt Stock had also grown up in the state.
Williams first saw Brown play during the summer before his senior year at the Double-Pump Camp at Cal State Dominguez Hills. Williams also watched him play for his high school team at a summer AAU tournament in Las Vegas.
"They had him playing center, but he hit a few 3s and just ran so effortlessly," Williams said. "I thought as he filled out, he'd be a perfect big guard - the Mark Hull type, from 6-foot-7 to 6-4, who's versatile. He has all that in him, to be special that way."
Brown realized how highly UCSB regarded him after Williams came to visit him in Gillette, where his father manages a coal mine.
"Coach Williams took a tour of the mine when he came out. I mentioned it and he was really down for it," he said. "It definitely made a big difference to me that he'd go all the way to Wyoming, and it gave me a good feeling that he wanted to meet my parents like that and spend some personal time with us."
Brown said he fell in love with Santa Barbara, although he did feel home sick during his first three months last year.
"It was tough to red-shirt while being so far away from everyone," he said. "It took a couple of months but the red-shirt year definitely helped. I got to utilize my time to work on some things with the coaches, individually.
"It was good, especially not having played against all that kind of talent very much."
Williams believes he has the potential to be "a special player."
"It's all going to be based on his learning curve," he said. "But he's not afraid of work. He's not afraid of the physical part of the game."
It's how it's done in Wyoming, a place where Brown will find himself playing in front of family and friends again on Friday night.
His mom did make the drive with her own parents to see her son play at Boise State last month.
"It was an 11-hour road trip," Brown said.
A short trip, he added, for someone who carried him up and down a basketball court for six months.