Up to the challenge

Brett Gifford, a 6-foot-9 center, has become a key player for Rock Bridge his first year on varsity
Friday, December 24, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:04 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

There’s always uncertainty when a player is elevated to the varsity team.

For Brett Gifford, a 6-foot-9 junior center at Rock Bridge, the increased competition has showcased his skills.

Through the Bruins’ first seven games, Gifford has given the Bruins a threat on both ends of the court. He is averaging seven points per game and leading the Bruins in blocked shots (1.4) and rebounds (6.7).

Opposing players have to consider his presence in the low post, and his soft touch around the basket gives the Bruins’ offense another option.

“He gives us that advantage inside,” Bruins coach Jim Scanlon said. “He’s a good rebounder, he blocks shots. Probably everybody would like to have just one big guy because they come in handy quite often.”

For the Bruins, height is an abundant asset.

The Bruins’ interior rotation features four other players that are 6- 4 or taller. Assistant coach Brannon Bartlett said that helps Gifford’s development as well as his play during games.

“One is it creates competition in practice, and when they have each other in practice it makes them better,” Bartlett said. “In a game situation he knows he can go out and play as hard as he can play and that he doesn’t have to play tentative and have to try to stay out of foul trouble because we have height.”

In addition to the blocked shots, rebounding and scoring, Scanlon said Gifford gives the Bruins a rare quality in the post.

“He’s got great hands and what makes him set apart is that he’s a great passer,” Scanlon said. “He’d probably as soon pass as he would shoot.”

Gifford said his improvement this season is because of a 70-game summer league schedule and daily individual work with the Bruins’ coaching staff on his post moves.

Although Gifford said the extra practice has improved his play, he also said part of his success is from his physical maturation in the past year, which has improved his coordination.

“It’s a lot better this year than I would say last year,” Gifford said. “I felt really awkward last year. This year it’s starting to get better, but I am still a little uncoordinated.”

Gifford said that sometimes people incorrectly assume that basketball should be easier for taller players.

“People think that just because you’re taller … that you can automatically dominate,” Gifford said. “But when you’re bigger you’re less coordinated, it’s harder. You have to grow into your body.”

Despite Gifford’s inexperience on varsity, Bartlett said he isn’t surprised with the progress Gifford has made this season.

“He’s worked hard, and hard work pays off,” Bartlett said. “It’s been a process, and he’s just had to take the steps forward needed to improve, and he’s definitely moving towards being better and better.”

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