PROVO — From his perch on the bench, Payton Dastrup is easily BYU basketball’s Greatest Showman.
His fist-pumping, arm gyrations, windmills, dance moves and hand motions aren’t a three-ring circus act. There is no trapeze, use of animals or ingesting of swords, but there is little doubt Dastrup is BYU’s most effective player/cheerleader in history, a Hugh Jackman in his own Cougar right.
“He is a great teammate,” says BYU coach Dave Rose. “One of the best teammates we’ve ever had in our program. He continues to work really hard. On this team, he’s found spots where he’s really helped us and won games for us. In spots, he’s made contributions. He’s so team-oriented, he’s always up for whatever the team needs to win, and those are great guys to have around.”
Dastrup has the attitude of the late Billy Graham. His positivity is infectious. He’s funny, and his antics are born of his big heart. His teammates love him; he inspires and he supports. If he has a complaint that he isn’t getting enough playing time, we’d need a congressional hearing to prove it.
His credo is simple. He is on BYU’s team to do all he can to help. Whatever sliver of a role given, he will take. As a player, he is a scavenger, looking for any playing time given, while preparing himself to make plays on either end of the court for however many minutes are meted out.
As the Cougars prepare for a late Thursday night tip at Portland, I asked Dastrup what it is that makes him tick.
“I think just seeing people’s success, either mine or my team’s," he said. "I love being a part of BYU, being a part of Cougar Nation, being an impact on this season, whether I’m on or off the floor, always being able to give something to this team, whether it’s a big offensive rebound and a put-back or to knock down a three or some celebration that gets the crowd involved. It is something that’s been instilled in me the past two years as a part of this program.”
Dastrup says there isn’t a player on BYU’s roster who’s prepared for a bench role.
“In high school, I was ‘the guy.’ All of us on this team were ‘the guy’ on our high school teams, so there wasn’t a whole lot of time to be the energy guy on the bench. I’ve really embraced that role and try to stay positive and make the most of it. That’s pretty much what people see game in and game out and that’s pretty much what they’re going to see the rest of the season.”
“Definitely,” he said.
“There have been games where I’ve been able to make an impact right away, whether it’s been rebounding, blocking a shot or hitting an open shot when the guards give me the ball. Defense is something I’ve really tried to work on and something I still need to work on in terms of solidifying more minutes on the floor.
“I feel like the coaches want me to stay positive and that positivity on and off the floor gives me confidence when I go in to do what the other guys have done when given the opportunity.”
Down the stretch, the Cougars have a lot of challenges. The team's depth is shallow, its bench scoring sporadic. Some shooters have struggled and losses against teams in the lower tier of the league have rocked spirits. But Dastrup says there remains one key to finishing tough heading into Las Vegas and the league tournament.
“I think we need to stay connected defensively,” he said.
“When we stay connected, it's very hard to beat us because of how efficient we can be on offense. There have been sometimes this year we haven’t played very well on offense but because of our defense, we have won.
“There have been times where there has been a kind of lull and things have gone back and forth and back and forth with five or six minutes left and we come into that five-minute mark and rev it up one more gear and put the clamps down and that has given us huge lifts to get wins.
“Shooting is something we know our guys can do. Elijah has become a tremendous shooter, TJ has always been a shooter and Zac (Seljaas) is finding a rhythm. If I get an opportunity to get an open shot, I feel confident I can make it. But defensively is the way we are going to get to where we want to be and confidence that we can make a run.”
As disappointing as the road losses to LMU, San Diego and Pacific were for the Cougars, Dastrup, The Showman, hasn’t given up hope or faith in his teammates that they can get to the Big Dance.13 comments on this story
“We are confident we have the pieces to get to the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “We can’t control what others need to do or how the refs are going to call the game, but we can control our effort and desire to come out and play the best basketball we can play.”
At the end of a long day, when Dastrup walks away from the game, from practices and drills, his needs are simple. He has a new puppy named Luna and he’s totally content with hanging out with the pup and his girlfriend, doing homework, completing some housekeeping, seeing friends. If he had a preference, he’d go golfing, just to relax.
“I’m a pretty low-maintenance guy, really,” he said.
“I just might call my mom and tell her I love her.”