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South Jordan Journal

Bingham Miner Branden Carlson is saving his best for last on the Utah Utes basketball team

Apr 12, 2024 12:08PM ● By Brian Shaw

Utah Utes senior graduate center Branden Carlson is honored as the school’s 5th all-time leading scorer. (Photo courtesy University of Utah Athletics)

When Branden Carlson tipped in a teammate’s heave at the buzzer to pull off a 70-69 upset for the Utah Utes basketball team at UCLA back on Sunday, Feb. 18, his father was asked how the family’s living room ebbed and flowed as the officials went to the replay monitor at Pauley Pavilion.  

“Honestly, pure joy, then some reservations that the refs might take it away,” Bryan Carlson said. “Then joy again!” 

That might have summed up the career of his son Branden at Bingham High School and the University of Utah, too. 

The 7-foot senior and pride of South Jordan started his time at the U after a storied career at Bingham that included backing up BYU-bound, eventual pro Yoeli Childs until Carlson was a senior. 

It was then that Carlson took over, and he not only led the Miners to a state title during the 2016-17 school year—he left Bingham ranking in the school’s top 10 in scoring [eighth] and rebounds [third]. 

When Carlson poured in 12 points to become the University of Utah’s fifth all-time leading scorer on Sunday, March 24 in a 91-82 NIT tournament win over Iowa, it only came after the former Miner decided to stay at the U for his senior season rather than declare for the 2023 NBA Draft. 

“This year, the NBA process has taught me a lot and showed me the level I aspire to be, but I’m not done here — not yet,” Carlson said in a video statement last May. “Legacy, that’s what’s on my mind — my legacy as a Ute, as a player and as a teammate.” 

Again, Carlson chose loyalty over leaving when he wasn’t considered the best player on his team. 

After a return from his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Manchester, England at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year that coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Carlson—along with 10 other freshmen that former Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak recruited—averaged about seven points and two rebounds for the Utes as a freshman. But, he also put up 15 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks in one game—something that only three Utes have done in school history. 

In the 2020-21 season as a sophomore, Carlson’s 9.6 points per game, 4.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks got the attention of the Pac-12 Conference. But, Carlson wouldn’t receive any accolades from the Pac-12 coaches and media then, either—and didn’t leave the program after new head coach Craig Smith arrived at Utah from Utah State. Instead, Carlson got married and waited for his turn to shine. 

That patience paid off; as a junior, Carlson scored the basketball at a rate of 14 points, grabbing six rebounds and getting 1.6 blocks per contest. 

That would earn Carlson second-team All-Pac-12 honors at a time when Utah’s program was undergoing some turnover. 

Again, Carlson had some opportunities to leave Utah after his junior year—but he stayed. It turned out to be a great move for the South Jordan native because the  numbers from his junior year not only increased, Carlson was named first-team All-Pac-12 after a 16.4/7.5/2.0 kind of year as a senior. 

Not only have Carlson’s numbers improved—if that were possible—from 16.4 to 17.2 in terms of points, the graduate senior’s elbow sprain that he suffered at Oregon in the season finale seems to have healed. 

It’s that legacy that kept Carlson at Utah for the COVID year he was allowed to take, and it’s that legacy the Bingham Miner has retained in his personal life from high school to college and from a shorter hairdo to what is now curly hair held back by his trademark headband. 

All that Carlson asked for in his entire career was to have the Huntsman Center filled one last time, for posterity, at the NIT quarterfinal versus a VCU team coached by former Utah State coach Ryan Odom. 

“My last time playing at the University of Utah on Wednesday after 5 amazing years,” Carlson said on Tuesday, March 26. “Would love to see a packed Huntsman Center one final time! Go Utes!” λ