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Home for the Holidays: Chestatee's Branden Jovaag
Oglethorpe University’s Branden Jovaag, a Chestatee High graduate, passes the ball during a game earlier this season. - photo by For The Times

Oglethorpe University senior Branden Jovaag doesn’t know how long he’ll be able to keep it up, but the Chestatee grad and the rest of his teammates and coaches are benefiting each time he’s out on the floor.

Jovaag, who joined the Division III Stormy Petrels basketball team for his freshman season in 2009, is shooting just under 50 percent this season from 3-point range.

Including attempts from inside the arc, that number jumps to well over 50 percent for the shooting guard, who is a big reason Oglethorpe is off to a 8-3 start.

“He’s just having an unbelievable senior year,” Petrels coach Philip Ponder said. “He shoots lights out, and he’s shooting like nine (3-pointers) a game, and making 4.5.”

In a Nov. 29 game against Berry in Atlanta, Jovaag went 6 of 8 from beyond the arc, a performance the senior said is his best of a stellar season so far.

“The basket felt pretty big there,” he said. “Everything seemed to go in for me.”

It’s certainly a hot start, but given Jovaag’s steady rise, it’s not completely unexpected.

“He’s a perfect example of perseverance,” Ponder said.

Jovaag graduated from Chestatee High not knowing exactly what college basketball would have to offer, but coming off a solid high school career.

His freshman year at Oglethorpe was a surprise.

“As a freshman he got no meaningful playing time — no playing time in close games,” Ponder said.

“It was tough freshman year,” Jovaag said. “I didn’t know what college basketball was like, but it really was a humbling experience.

“It motivated me to work hard every year and be a contributor on the team.”

The hard work paid off, and in his sophomore year he played 10-12 minutes a game off the bench. Then, as a junior, he finally got the chance to start, although Ponder said he was still more of a role player. He did show promise from beyond the arc, shooting 39-40 percent from 3-point range.

This year, his second as a starter, he’s blown those already impressive numbers away.

“This year he’s playing unbelievable,” Ponder said. “Every time he shoots I think it’s going in.”

After 11 games, Jovaag is averaging a team-high 16.6 points per game, shooting 52.4 percent from the floor and 47.5 percent from 3-point range even after shooting just 2 of 7 on 3s in his last outing. Through the first nine games he was second in the conference in scoring.

And he’s had this big uptick in performance this season despite spending the summer on the other side of the world.

Jovaag spent the summer before his senior year on a marketing internship in Australia, but he assured his coach that he would find a way to continue practicing each day.

“He’s always been a good shooter, but he just shot a lot over the summer,” Ponder said. “He promised me that he’d find a place to play, and he ended up playing in a league three nights a week in Australia.

“Now he has so much more confidence.”

Jovaag said he also shot baskets every day at a local net ball court, which has a basket smaller than that of a basketball net, meaning each shot had to be even more on target.

An added incentive to not miss: no backboard.

“It definitely helped,” Jovaag said of playing overseas. “I was able to keep playing, it kept me in shape and kept my edge on.”

As well as he’s done so far though, Jovaag can’t afford to let that edge dull with so much of the season still left to play, including the Southern Athletic Association conference schedule, where Ponder said the familiarity and advance scouting makes it a little tougher for everyone.

The coach said the team plans to do some things differently, though, to make sure Jovaag still has his chances no matter what the defense throws his way. And even if the fast start does slow down some as the season progresses, Jovaag’s still one of the most dangerous scorers on the floor.

“He’s having one of the best season’s that I’ve seen,” said Ponder, who had a former player, now an assistant coach, shoot exactly 50 percent from 3-point range in a season.

Jovaag is concerned more with team than individual stats, though.

“So far it’s been a lot of fun, especially because we’re winning, too,” Jovaag said. “The best way would be to get to the conference championship this year, because we haven’t been for awhile. That would be the best way to go out, for sure.

“We want to get that championship.”

So far, Jovaag is powering the Petrels toward that goal.

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