OGDEN — Even casual followers of Weber State men’s basketball have probably picked up at least one thing about the Wildcats: No. 44 spends a lot of time pulling down the rim for dunks.
That’s Zach Braxton, a fifth-year, 6-foot-9 senior from Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Braxton has 32 dunks in 22 games this season. Most recently, in a win over Sacramento State, he impressively spun past his defender in the post for a two-handed throwdown.
That’s just one of the many ways Braxton’s play improves Weber State’s efficiency. In fact, Braxton is quietly turning in one of the more efficient seasons in recent WSU history offensively while also impacting the defensive end of the floor.
Sure, his 10.8 points per game is only fourth on the team. But Braxton leads the Big Sky Conference in field goal percentage at 66.1 percent — an entire five percentage points better than the next-best player.
So those dunks matter. It’s the most efficient way to score in basketball. The next best way: free throws, and Braxton’s success at the charity stripe has driven the Wildcats in that category.
Free-throw rate is a ratio of how many free throws a player shoots per 100 field goal attempts. Braxton is sixth nationally in free-throw rate at 87.3.
But he doesn’t just get to the line, he makes the shots. Braxton barely cleared 50 percent at the line as a freshman. Now, he’s shooting 71.6 percent. It’s a big reason why WSU leads the Big Sky in team free throw percentage at 75 percent, which is 34th nationally. (Idaho State is second in the Big Sky at 72.4.)
His offensive rating of 117.6 is third-best in the conference among players who use at least 20 percent of their team’s possessions.
In addition to players becoming used to his voice as that of a trusted leader, Braxton also earns high praise from teammates and coaches for how he operates with the ball in the post and his level of decision-making.
“That’s always been my game. I want to be as efficient as possible offensively,” Braxton said. “Whether that’s me personally or the team, I want everything to be efficient and done well.”
The praise doesn’t come for just his scoring. Braxton is patient with the ball and looks for teammates, often making passes that set the offense in motion and ends with someone else taking an open shot.
“I really love to see my teammates succeed as much as I like to see myself succeed. I get an even better feeling when I fire a pass out off the block to somebody in the opposite corner and they hit a 3,” he said. “That feels better than hitting a regular jump hook. Seeing their success and hearing everybody get loud for somebody else is important to me.”
Braxton is also fourth in the Big Sky in rebounds per game (7.4), including second in offensive rebounds per game (2.7), and is seventh in blocks.
Perhaps no game this season put it on display like WSU’s road win at Portland State on Jan. 12. Braxton scored two layups and two dunks in the first 13 minutes, scored his team’s first points of overtime on a dunk after a grabbing offensive rebound, and threw an assist from deep in the paint to Brekkott Chapman for a go-ahead 3 in overtime — finishing with 18 points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocks, while shooting 6 of 7 from the field and 6 of 6 from the free-throw line.
“That mindset and caring about everyone in that locker room as much as I care for myself has been the reason why I think things are efficient when the ball comes through me,” Braxton said.