In Roswell, New Mexico, you might expect to encounter a few little green men wandering around.
But Bart Jepsen swears he's never seen any space men near the city that houses the International UFO Museum and Research Center, and claims to have had a flying saucer crash-land outside of town.
And he would know. He was born and raised in Roswell, and at six-feet-nine-inches tall, he had a pretty good view of the town. The sophomore forward on the BYU basketball team laughs when asked about UFO sightings.
"It's not a big deal in Roswell," he says. "I heard the most comments when I was on my mission in upstate New York. When I'd introduce myself and tell people where I was from, I'd hear a few remarks about it, but they thought it was a bigger deal in New York than the people in New Mexico did."
Maybe one of the reasons Bart never had a close encounter back home is that he spent so much time indoors on the hardwood, a location familiar to the entire Jepsen clan. In fact, for most of the '90s, just about every basketball team at Roswell High School had a Jepsen on it.
Before Bart came along, his older brother Bret, also a former BYU Cougar (see article on page 6), dominated opponents in the hometown gym. After Bret left, Bart took over, lettering all four years of his prep career and tallying impressive averages of 15 points and 10 rebounds per game.
However, because of their age difference, Bart and Bret never shared time on the same team until coming to BYU, and the chance to do just that played a big role in Bart's decision to come to the Y.
"Ultimately, the chance to play with Bret for a year was probably the deciding factor," he said. "It was neat because I was entering as a freshman and he was just back from his mission, so neither one of us had a whole lot of Division One experience. But it was great to be able to build upon that relationship with him, both on and off the court."
Having two college basketball players in the family could have made for a lot of competition growing up, but Bart insists that most of their competition isn't the head-to-head variety.
"I think that following in his footsteps is where the competitiveness comes from. Bret's always been very successful, and so it was more a case of me trying to follow his example," said Bart. "I enjoyed it though. I had no problem being in the shadow of him. It motivated me to try and beat all of his records."
After attacking his older brother's records in Roswell, Bart brought his game to Provo to join first-year head coach Steve Cleveland. After winning only one game the year before Coach Cleveland came to BYU, Bart's freshman year saw the Cougars win nine games, and even back then, Bart knew that good things were in store for BYU.
"I always knew we would be good again, it was just a matter of time. I don't think that I expected it to be such a quick turnaround, but I was always optimistic about the whole thing."
After that freshman season that saw him average nearly 12 minutes a game, Bart left for a two-year Church mission to Utica, New York.
"It definitely wasn't what I expected. I think that everyone you ask about a mission would say the same thing. It was something that helped me to learn and grow so much." Bart continues with a smile, "I don't know if I'd ever like to re-live those experiences, but I wouldn't trade them for anything either."
One of the experiences from his mission that he likely wouldn't want to re-live involved a badly broken leg.
"It was one of those dumb things that you wish that you could wake up from. We got a ton of snow one night and the next day our mission president had us stay in for the day because driving to rural appointments would be dangerous," said Bart. "That night at the church house, the parking lot had been plowed into big huge snow mounds, and being dumb missionaries, we decided that we would run and jump off of the snow mounds into the snow on the other side. So I got the bright idea to try and do a flip off of the top, I landed wrong, and the rest is history."
While breaking his fibula was a serious setback to returning and playing at BYU right away, Bart doesn't feel that it was the reason he redshirted last year.
"I think that last year we were pretty set in all of the positions and even if I hadn't redshirted, I don't know if I would have had that much playing time anyways."
During the two years Bart was on his mission, the Cougar basketball team steadily improved, culminating in a Mountain West Conference Championship last season. Sitting on the bench as a redshirt, Bart longed for the chance to be a part of the team on the court. "I would have loved to be in some of those games last year and contributed whatever I could have. But, I take a little bit of credit for that success. I had a role to play in practice, and I feel like that helped to prepare the team a little bit."
This year Bart is expected to take on a much more active role in the team's success. This team has some big shoes to fill after losing most of its offense from a season ago.
"Obviously we lost our core from last year," says Bart. "We lost almost all of our scoring and I think that the coaches were concerned. Even the players were a little concerned because we didn't have a lot of experience coming into the season.
"That's one of the reasons we were picked to finish so poorly in the conference. But I like being able to prove a lot of the critics and doubters wrong. One thing we have to our advantage is that we have a great group of guys, and it's just a matter of whether or not we'll mesh, and that will eventually prove to be our success or failure. So far, we mesh really well, and that is a big reason why we have been winning."
According to Bart, another reason the Cougars are off to a good start this season is the system that Coach Cleveland has in place.
"My freshman year was kind of hectic because the coaches were new and they were trying to get a feel for things. It was interesting to come back from my mission and see how it had evolved into a system that was pretty much intact, with everyone knowing their role and having things running smoothly."
Off the court, Bart was married in July to Brittany Priest, and is busy trying to balance basketball with the demands of being an economics major.
"BYU is not an easy school even for those who don't play sports, so adding four or five hours a day onto your schoolwork with practice, watching film, travel, etc., keeping up with the classwork is not always easy.
"Even on the road there isn't a lot of downtime so you really have to utilize every moment that you can. You have to study in the hotel, in the airport while your waiting for a flight, even on the plane. You just have to learn to take advantage of any downtime that you can."
With the start of the conference season fast approaching, Bart realizes that all of the games will be critical, but he can't help but smile when thinking about playing the University of New Mexico.
"I think it's a special game. I mean, going back to the place that you grew up and playing in the Pit. A lot of my friends go to New Mexico so it's a chance to go back and play in front of a lot of people that I grew up around."
But before that matchup with the Lobos, Bart knows that he will be called on to fulfill an important role on this team if they are going to repeat as conference champions.
"Coach Cleveland has talked to me a lot about how my minutes have come from rebounding and playing defense this year, but I'd like to transition that into becoming more of an offensive threat. I would like to take some of the scoring pressure off the other players if the opportunity arises."
With two years of eligibility remaining after this season, Bart looks forward to contributing to future Cougar success and wants to continue the tradition that Coach Cleveland has brought back to the Marriott Center.
But while dreaming of conference titles and post-season tournaments could put many a player's head in the clouds, this soft-spoken young man from the UFO capital of the world faces his future with his feet firmly planted on the ground.