Some of the biggest stars have humble, small-town roots. For Taran Brown, a native of Wyoming, the transition from small-town boy to college basketball player has shown he has the potential to be a star in the making.

As a redshirt freshman, Brown has embraced the transition from the small-town vibe of Wyoming to the California living of Santa Barbara.

“It was a huge transition for me; it’s a night-and-day difference,” Brown said. “The ocean and the people and the things to do — I definitely like it out here a lot more ­— the opportunities you have out here and the connections and stuff. I enjoy myself out here a lot more, I would say.”

Brown hails from Gillette, Wyoming, the fourth-largest city in the state with a population of roughly 30,000. Needless to say, growing up in such a small and isolated place certainly helped to shape Brown into the man and player he is today.

“Everyone kind of knows everyone and that’s kind of how it is in Wyoming,” Brown said. “If you’re a pretty well-known athlete, you kind of just know everyone because it is a small place. There’s not a lot of violence there, so it’s a great place to grow up. I really love Wyoming, especially my hometown.”

Making it as a basketball player was not always the only dream for Brown. He played football and participated in several track events including hurdles, high jump, long jump and the triple jump up until his sophomore year in high school. Had he continued playing either sport, Brown has no doubt he could have played either at the college level.

“I quit just to focus on basketball,” Brown said. “I was actually pretty good in both of those and went to state in both of those. It would have been fun to be a college wide receiver, but I think my passion is definitely basketball.”

While his 6’8” frame would have certainly proven deadly as a wide receiver, where Brown truly excels is in his athletic ability. His ability to shoot and run the floor like a guard with the build of a forward helped him to establish a future beyond playing high school ball at Campbell County High School.

“It was tough, especially since the population is not too high in Wyoming. There is under a million people, so it’s hard to get recognized for basketball,” Brown said. “We didn’t have [Amateur Athletic Union], so my traveling coaches when I grew up, we all went to tournaments all over just to get my name out there.”

During high school, Brown stood out on a national stage despite playing in the least populated state in the country. Taran was named a McDonald’s All-American as well as the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Wyoming. He was also a two-time All-State selection and led Campbell County to a state title during his senior year.

“[Assistant] Coach [Matt] Stock (a Wyoming native) really deserves credit on [bringing Taran to UCSB] because of the Wyoming connection,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “He had heard a ton about him and been in touch with him and had been mailing him stuff. I watched him play in Vegas, and from that, that’s when we really started recruiting him. Once he got out here and saw Santa Barbara and all that compared to where he grew up, it was a really nice opportunity for him.”

Ultimately, the charm of Santa Barbara lured Brown, a sociology major, away from competing schools such as Colorado State and Wyoming. Last season, Brown, along with Coach Williams, decided to redshirt in order to save a year of eligibility. That decision allowed him to focus on transitioning from Wyoming life to the faster California lifestyle he wasn’t used to.

“To see his transition was funny. When he first got here he didn’t know a lot of things, didn’t know a lot of California terms, didn’t know a lot of places to go eat and never heard of a lot of things,” sophomore guard T.J. Taylor said. “It was very fun to see him transition from a little Wyoming kid to now, almost a superstar.”

This season, Brown has shown just how dangerous of a player he can be. With six games left in the regular season, he has already broken the school’s single-season record for three-pointers made in a season by a freshman with 52. That number ranks seventh in the entire Big West Conference. His 11.7 points per game rank third this season for UCSB and are first amongst freshmen in the conference.

Brown has also shown to be versatile aside from scoring, ranking second on the team in rebounds (5.7), steals (0.9) and blocks (1.0), third in assists (2.2) and first in minutes per game (31.1). He has eclipsed the 20-point mark three times this season and registered a career-high 22 points in only his second game as a Gaucho.

“His potential is to the sky, it’s just on him to have the mentality to come into the gym everyday, really working to get better and really believing in himself as well,” Taylor said. “I think he will, with the push from the coaches and his teammates. He can be a superstar. I’m excited to see him grow and become a better player.”

With his future looking bright at UCSB, Brown’s dreams of playing basketball as a profession are slowly taking shape. Who would have thought that a small-town kid from snowy northeastern Wyoming would one day become the big man on campus at sunny Santa Barbara?

“Ever since I was five years old, I just started with a ball and had travel leagues from first grade all the way until now. It’s always been my thing and I just really love to play,” Brown said. “When I’m on the court, it just feels like I’m in the right place. I’m going to bring basketball as far as I can. I know I have a ways to go, but anything can happen, so I’m going to keep pushing.”

UCSB next plays at UC Riverside tonight at 7 p.m.

A version of this article appeared on page 13 of February 20th 2013’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Magali Gauthier/Daily Nexus.