COLFAX – Brandon Gfeller has left a mark on Colfax High basketball. The three-year starter and four-year letterman led Colfax to a State 2B championship last year and will go on to the University of Montana ranked second in all-time career scoring. His name is as smooth to pronounce (JEE-feller) as his game. He’s the complete package. “He’s like Opie of Mayberry,” Colfax football coach Mike Morgan said. “He’s easygoing and everybody likes him.”
Morgan has had the pleasure of knowing Gfeller even though he didn’t play football beyond his freshman year. A neck injury that season turned out to be fortunate. X-rays showed that he had a genetic birth defect, and his doctor told him he shouldn’t play the sport anymore. Morgan projected Gfeller as his starting quarterback by his junior year.
“He would have been a really good one,” Morgan said.
The diagnosis freed Gfeller to spend more time doing what he loves most – playing basketball.
Gfeller and his family live 15 miles north of Colfax, where his father oversees a 3,000-acre farm. So when he wasn’t in the gym in Colfax, he could be found in the gym at Steptoe Elementary. The principal loaned him a key to the gym.
When he was in middle school, Gfeller was in the gym shooting by himself before and after school. He’s never had a girlfriend.
That’s not entirely true, says his basketball coach, Reece Jenkin.
“That,” Jenkin said, pointing to a basketball, “is his girlfriend.”
Basketball and school have dominated his time. He carries a 3.97 grade-point average. It would be a perfect 4.0 but he’s had two A-minuses. Both came last year from the same teacher, Mrs. Vogler, in pre-calculus and chemistry.
“She’s a very good teacher,” Gfeller said.
He signed with Montana in November. Four other schools offered scholarships – Idaho, Idaho State, Portland State and Eastern Washington University.
Idaho coach Don Verlin was the first to offer a scholarship. And for proximity reasons, it made sense to pick Idaho or EWU, where he enjoyed meeting coach Jim Hayford.
The fact that Montana has had much success in recent years, going to the NCAA tournament two out of the last three seasons, struck a chord with Gfeller.
“What’s not to like about the NCAA tournament?” Gfeller said.
The 6-foot-3 Gfeller, who plays point guard at Colfax, is projected as a shooting guard at Montana. That would be a perfect fit since his biggest strength is his shooting – especially from 3-point range.
Gfeller is averaging 23.2 points per game with 1,259 in his career. He’s also pulling down eight rebounds and dishing out three assists a game. He’s shooting 43 percent from 3-point range (47 of 109).
He had a season-low four points against league-leading St. George’s last month. The teams play for the second time Friday.
“I have to give St. George’s a lot of credit,” Jenkin said. “They double teamed Brandon, and he missed a lot of shots he usually doesn’t miss.”
Colfax is a shell of the team that won state a year ago. Four starters graduated. But Jenkin has liked the development of his players and it showed during a holiday tournament in Lewiston, where the Bulldogs defeated Lewiston and Walla Walla, schools considerably bigger. Colfax handed Walla Walla its first loss as Gfeller scored the Bulldogs’ final 13 points.
He’s spent countless hours in the gym refining his shot.
“I love shooting,” he said. “It doesn’t get boring for me.”
He’s overcome one other birth defect. Gfeller has a hearing impairment, so he wears hearing aids and sits near the front of his classes so he can hear teachers lecture. He doesn’t use them in games. Jenkin relies heavily on hand signals for offensive and defensive calls.
“If I’m in crowds I miss out on some conversations,” Gfeller said. “It helps to be able to read lips.”
Gfeller is enjoying this season because it is affording him the opportunity to play with his younger brother, Keith, a freshman and the first player off the bench.
Keith is a three-sport athlete whose best sport may be football. He started the Bulldogs’ final three games this season and will challenge for the starting job at quarterback next year.
Whether Keith develops into the basketball player Brandon is remains to be seen. Jenkin didn’t see Brandon’s potential as a freshman.
“I didn’t know he’d be where he is today,” Jenkin said. “He’s made huge leaps each year.”
Perhaps the best Gfeller is yet to come. Brandon’s sister, Carmen, is in seventh grade and is a basketball junkie.
The road to state will be much more difficult for Colfax this winter. The Bulldogs are seeking a fourth straight trip. But league play presents a gauntlet with St. George’s and Northwest Christian, which fell to Colfax in the state final last year.
Jenkin feels blessed to have coached Gfeller.
“I’ve never seen a kid work as hard as him,” Jenkin said. “He’s won a lot of basketball games for us the last three years. He’s made me look like a good basketball coach from time to time.”