Age is no guarantee of maturity.
Many basketball players believe they are grown men when given the opportunity to go to a Junior College or play Division-I ball after high school. Though some are, the attention creates an illusion of false confidence and maturity in many.
While Braden Koelliker didn’t receive any Division-I offers upon graduating Davis High School in Salt Lake City, Utah, he very well could have played junior college basketball, a common decision amongst graduated high school basketball players looking to play at the Division-I level eventually.
However for Koelliker, the only contract he would be signing was one to attend a two-year Mormon mission trip.
“My parents wanted me to go because my dad went on a mission in New Zealand,” Koelliker said. “He knew the repercussions and positive influence it would have on the rest of my life. My parents didn’t overall make the decision for me though, I did.”
Koelliker is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints. Once a member of the church turns 18 they are eligible to apply for a two-year missionary trip. If an individual is accepted by the Church authorities, they are assigned a location. Koelliker spent his two years Knoxville, Tennessee, and the western part of North Carolina. Attendees of these mission trips have a goal of spreading the Mormon faith.
“We proselyte to anyone we come in contact with and we also do a lot of service,” Koelliker said. “We knock on doors. We talk to people on the street. We volunteer at charities.”
The forward still had basketball on his mind throughout his time trip. Although, he hardly was able to find free time to even shoot a ball.
“It’s more of when you can,” Koelliker said. “If I had some free time I would try to play but you’re up 16 hours a day from morning to evening for the church.”
Not only was Koelliker in great standing with his church after serving his time as a missionary, he also felt like a new man upon returning home to Utah. Koelliker found himself on the trip. He had gained a new sense of maturity and felt as if he had become a man.
“I’m a totally different person from before and after the mission,” Koelliker said. “You feel like you’ve done something with your life. Like there is something out there more than just yourself and there is a bigger purpose. It was also just a huge maturity boost for me.”
Following his mission trip, Koelliker decided to attend a junior college. It would prove to be a wise decision, considering the 6-foot-8 forward had not consistently played basketball since his senior year in high school. However, before going off to junior college, Koelliker met his eventual wife.
“I got set up with her on a blind date two months after I got home from the missions trip,” Koelliker said. “Then we dated for a year, long distance for the first semester I was in junior college. Then she moved down with me that second semester and we dated there and then got married in the summer. She lives in Fort Collins now as well.”
Koelliker attended Snow College near his home in Utah for one year. During his one season at Snow, Koelliker excelled. He contributed 13.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game as a member of the Badgers. This gave him the Division-I exposure that he dreamed of.
“I was able to stretch out the defense and shoot,” Koelliker said. “But I was also able to put it on the floor too, so I kind of created a hard matchup.”
Koelliker had quite a few options in terms of where he would choose to play Division-I. Considering his faith, Brigham Young University was on his mind towards the beginning of the process. However, his interest in becoming a Cougar quickly dwindled.
“Every Mormon is kind of attracted to BYU, but for me it just wasn’t the right fit,” Koelliker said.
Koelliker also showed some interest in Cal State Fullerton and Weber State. The latter of the two was extremely intriguing for Koelliker. Staying close to home was a priority, and Weber State’s campus was just down the road from Koelliker’s home. However, the Snow College product did not fall in love there either.
“Weber State is really close to my house actually, about 20 minutes away,” Koelliker said. “But I didn’t feel like I fit into their program like I did here when I came on a visit.”
Colorado State ended up finding Koelliker before he found it. Though it was far from home and he hardly knew anything about Fort Collins, Koelliker found out becoming a Ram would benefit him most.
“(Colorado State) reached out and contacted me,” Koelliker said. “I really wanted to stay close to home and I really didn’t know a whole lot about Colorado State until I came on my visit. But I fell in love with it then.”
Koelliker knew it would not be all smooth sailing once he started practicing for CSU. Often times junior college transfers struggle transitioning to the Division-I level.
“Coming from JUCO to Division-I the biggest thing was learning to catch up with the speed, catch up with the physicality,” Koelliker said.
There have been some growing pains behind the scenes in terms of Koelliker’s transition. However, Koelliker has been an asset to the Rams on the floor.
He has held an extended role off the bench through 25 games this season. And with the Rams depleted roster, he is a key to Colorado State’s success.
“He’s a superstar in his role, he really is,” teammate Gian Clavell said. “He’s always on the floor and getting rebounds. That guy is probably the toughest guy on the team, honestly.”
Koelliker’s highlight as a Ram so far was in the season-opener against the now 22-2 New Mexico State Aggies. The forward scored a career-high 21 points in 36 minutes of playing time. He also added nine rebounds.
Though Koelliker has not topped seven points since, he has asserted himself as a hard-working player who always gives it his all.
“The one way I like to play is with hustle plays,” Koelliker said. “I like taking charges, I like getting on the floor. I was telling our trainer that I’m bleeding, or I’m hurt or I’m getting stitches every game.”
Koelliker’s teammates acknowledge and respect his aggressive approach to the game as well.
“He goes down hard a lot,” Emmanuel Omogbo said. “He’s always there to sacrifice his body. He’s a guy that can help us out a lot on our run.”
Now that he is settled in his role at Colorado State, the next move for Koelliker is helping his team advance to the big dance in March. Koelliker believes the only thing in the Rams way of winning the Mountain West regular season title and tournament is themselves.
“Coach Eustachy always says that we are our own opponent,” Koelliker said. “I think that’s the honest truth. We can come out and play as well as anybody any night and when we lose we beat ourselves.”
Collegian sports reporter Eddie Herz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz