BYU remains very close to former basketball star Jonathan Tavernari's heart

Published: Tuesday, June 3 2014 6:05 a.m. MDT

Updated: Thursday, July 3 2014 3:52 p.m. MDT

Former BYU star Jonathan Tavernari shoots a jumper last year with Esporte Clube Pinheiros in Brazil.

COURTESY OF TAVERNARI FAMILY

Editor's note: This is the first of an occasional series spotlighting former athletes with ties to the state of Utah.

Jonathan Tavernari is still a gunner.

Since leaving BYU four years ago, Tavernari, also known as “JT,” has been firing up 3-pointers in Europe and South America with pro teams on both continents, most recently with Esporte Clube Pinheiros in Brazil, where he was a teammate of former Cougar center Rafael Araujo.

During his four years at BYU, from 2006-10, the Brazilian Bomber hoisted up 698 3-pointers, second only to Jimmer Fredette in school history. He’s also No. 2 all time, behind Fredette, in 3-pointers made with 265.

During his pro career, Tavernari has shot over 40 percent from 3-point territory and 60 percent from 2-point range, and he’s been a consistent double-figures scorer.

This past season, for the first time in his career, Tavernari suffered a major injury, a torn calf muscle while playing for Pinheiros. He’s contemplating a return to Europe next season after spending his first three seasons playing in Italy — his father is Italian and Tavernari has dual citizenship.

But he’s never far from his BYU roots.

Though he’s been playing thousands of miles away from Provo, he keeps close tabs on Cougar basketball. He’s passionate about it. He catches games via the Internet, and offers strong opinions on Twitter (@For3JT).

And during the offseason, he returns to Utah, spending plenty of time in Provo playing pickup games.

“Every time I come back to campus,” Tavernari said, “they welcome me back with arms open.”

During his time at BYU, he was known for being a streaky shooter, hitting clutch 3-pointers, and for helping his team win three consecutive Mountain West Conference championships. As a senior, Tavernari asked coach Dave Rose to let him relinquish his starting job and come off the bench for the benefit of the team. At one time, Tavernari had been a part of more Cougar basketball wins than any other player in school history.

How would he like BYU fans to remember him?

“They kind of remember me as a gunner,” said Tavernari, who turns 27 this month. “And you know what? The funny thing is, as much as they thought that I was a gunner and took bad shots, I actually get paid to do that now. I did take some bad shots (at BYU), but that’s the way I played. When it got to be too much, Coach Rose took me out. That’s the way I play the game. I hope everyone remembers me for being a guy that loves BYU, that put BYU ahead of everything. I never quit on my team or my university. I put BYU first. It’s hard for me to separate BYU from the (LDS) Church.”

Tavernari, who grew up in Brazil, joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while attending high school in Las Vegas, just months before enrolling at BYU. He credits BYU for helping him in countless ways. It was at BYU that he met his wife, Kiri.

“I needed to strengthen my testimony and find a wife, and establish myself as someone with core values that my parents will be proud of and my children will be proud of,” he said. “I knew I needed to go to BYU to do those things.”

Kiri had been a student at BYU for five years before she met Tavernari, who likes to joke that they met when she asked him for an autograph.

“But that’s not true,” Kiri said. “I had never been to a basketball game and I didn’t know who was on the team before we met. We’d see each other going to classes and he would say hi all semester.”

When she finally attended a game, at EnergySolutions Arena — BYU was playing Utah State — she recognized Tavernari.

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