‘New’ knees give Grand Canyon’s Joshua Braun new lease on game he loves

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Joshua Braun wears No. 2 in part because he essentially has a pair of new knees. No. 24 might have been a good fit as well given that both his knees are fully functional following four surgeries.

Indeed, the Grand Canyon (Ariz.) University guard has overcome more than his share of setbacks to become one of the Western Athletic Conference’s top players.

Starting with the summer following his junior year of high school through preseason practice his first year at GCU, Braun tore both ACLs and both meniscus resulting in the four surgeries.

“It was a wild little sequence there,” said the redshirt  sophomore. “I was relying on my Lord savior to get me through that period of time because I was struggling. I am thankful for the chance to get to play again.”

The injuries and nearly two-season absence from the game he loves so much tested his resolve, a process he would ultimately pass with flying colors.

Braun feels that enduring such adversity not only resulted in healthy knees, but a young man with a healthier outlook on life.

“It definitely was a test of my patience,” recalled Braun, who had his senior season of high school cut short and was forced to redshirt his first year at GCU. “I wholeheartedly believe that I grew a ton through that period of time. It was definitely a tough period, but I am thankful that it happened.  I totally became the man I am today largely in part to the injuries and what I learned through that process.”

The 6-foot-4 Arizona native had an immediate impact upon returning to the court last season for the Antelopes, who are coached by former NBA all-star Dan Majerle. So much so that he was named the WAC’s newcomer of the year after averaging 11.8 points and 4.9 rebounds.

His production proved to be a sign of things to come. Heading into the regular-season finale at Utah Valley Saturday on ASN, Braun is second in conference scoring at 16.5 points. That figure has been helped by a WAC-best 87.4 percent shooting from the free throw line. Braun is also averaging 5.2 boards.

“The beginning of this season is when I actually started to feel like myself athletically,” said Braun, whose ‘Lopes are 24-6 and in December gave San Diego State a rare home defeat. “I still think I have room to improve and to continue to get quicker and faster. But definitely at the beginning of the season I felt a lot more explosive and lot quicker than I did last season.”

People around the nation have been noticing how his game has taken off. Confirmation of that includes being named to the mid-season watch list of the Lou Henson Award, which is presented to the top mid-major player in Division I.

“I go out there do my best and enjoy the opportunity that I have because you never know when it may be taken away,” he said when asked about such recognition. “I praise God for the opportunities that I have and for the ability to go out there and play well. I think somehow, someway those accolades come as a result and I am very appreciative of that. It is something that I did not expect.”

What he does expect is to be at the top of his game in the classroom as well. The business management major, who will complete his undergrad later this year, was named a first-team academic All-American.

Hitting the books is a byproduct of his parents who emphasize the importance of academics while also always giving your best at athletics.

David and Katherine certainly have the background to dish out such advice and encouragement. The former played soccer at Wisconsin-Green Bay and the latter was a volleyball player at Fort Lewis (Col.) College.

“My parents always pushed me to get good grades and to take academics seriously,” said Braun. “They also provided a lot of insight with athletics. They know what it takes to be a great athlete and play at the college level. They kind of pushed me, but in a loving way and they really helped nurture me to be the person that I am.”

Braun, who takes a break for hoops and schoolwork by hitting the links with his younger brother, cannot emphasize enough how appreciative he is to have come so far in such a short a period of time since his injuries.

“It is a game I grew up playing and I am thankful that I still have the opportunity to play a game that I enjoy,” he said. “It’s been a blast and it been fun playing with this team.”

Above: Grand Canyon’s Joshua Braun says time off for torn ACLs and meniscus gave him a new lease on life. (Courtesy Grand Canyon University Athletics)
Tom Layberger

Tom Layberger

Tom Layberger is a freelance writer based in Glen Mills, Pa.