Mark Bigelow -- His Hard Work is Paying Off

A BYU basketball player took the ball the length of the court with only seconds remaining, weaving between defenders to hit the game-winning finger-roll as time expired.

Nearly every Cougar basketball fan knows that story.

Or maybe not.

This event took place at the Kingdome in Seattle, not the Omni in Atlanta, and it was current BYU player Mark Bigelow who provided the last-second magic, not former BYU great Danny Ainge. While Ainge's winning dash against Notre Dame in the 1981 NCAA tournament is probably the most memorable play in modern BYU basketball history, Bigelow's baseline-to-baseline game winner in the Washington 3A State Tournament ranks pretty high in Mark's personal memory bank.

Erasing a five-point deficit in the semifinals to Mercer Island with less than 20 seconds remaining, Bigelow capped the comeback by taking a rebound off a missed free throw with six seconds left and dribbled the length of the court to nail the game-winner. Even though his team later ended up losing in the title game by two points, Bigelow was recognized as the tournament's most outstanding player.

"(The last-second dash) is definitely my greatest basketball memory," says Bigelow, a 6-foot-7 sophomore swingman. "The Kingdome was crazy. They had to open the second level because of all the fans. I think all of Olympia was there. It was pandemonium when we won."

That event, at least for any BYU fans among the 13,000-plus in attendance, might have brought to mind Ainge's similar heroics some 17 years earlier. Once Bigelow put on a BYU uniform as a freshman in the fall of 1998, other Ainge comparisons followed.

In his fourth college game, Bigelow scored 24 points, going a perfect 11-11 from the free throw line, and set a BYU record with nine steals against nationally ranked Arizona. Soon, memories of Ainge started being whispered throughout the stands in the Marriott Center. Three games later, playing in his home state, Bigelow tallied 33 points against Washington State-the second most points ever scored by a BYU freshman, behind only Ainge, who totaled 36 in one game.

His results on the court are not the only similarities. Both Bigelow and Ainge are from the Pacific Northwest, with Bigelow calling Olympia, Wash., home while Ainge prepped in Eugene, Ore. Both are as competitive as they come and are natural leaders on the court. And, yes, both have been known to question an official's call. But despite some similar traits and talents, Bigelow doesn't get caught up in any Ainge comparisons.

"I don't let that stuff enter my head," says the down-to-earth Bigelow. "I mean, it's definitely a compliment, but I don't even think about it. I'm a far cry from (Ainge)."

The reason he isn't worried about such lofty comparisons is because he is plenty satisfied and completely motivated just working hard on his own goals. He isn't trying to be known as the next Danny Ainge, just the best basketball player he can be.

He's been working hard on that goal for some time. He has played basketball ever since he can remember.

"I remember being fascinated when my family put in a big block basketball court in the backyard," Mark says. "I was three years old. I was amazed how smooth they made the cement. My brother and sisters were always playing, so I would play with them."

The youngest of Michael and Judy Bigelow's five children, Mark learned quickly from his older siblings and other friends.

"Even when he was very young Mark would always be the last kid to come in from playing basketball - and he wouldn't come voluntarily," Mark's father Michael says of his son's determined nature and love for the sport. "Mark and his brother Steven and several of their friends would play forever."

When Bigelow wasn't playing on his backyard court, he was playing on one of the other hoops in the neighborhood. Of course, he also found time for baseball, soccer, football, and even track.

"Mark is very competitive. He's always wanted to excel in athletics," Michael Bigelow explains. "When he was younger, he was a good football player and he was a very good baseball pitcher. But when he entered high school he wanted to concentrate on basketball."

To say he concentrated on basketball is somewhat understated.

"I would go to the gym after school (to practice)," Bigelow says. "Afterward, I would go home and eat and do homework for a while. Then my Dad would take me back down to the gym so I could take extra shots while he rebounded for me."

Bigelow shot 500 extra shots each night, five nights a week, especially during the off-season. His Dad, who was also a regular member of the backyard games during Mark's younger years, was always there, feeding his determined son the ball.

"He would do drills, working on his left and right hands," Mark's father reveals. "He worked hard. He wanted to be a good player and he made sure that he was."

Playing four years on the varsity team at Olympia High School, Bigelow's hard work began paying off as he earned a starting assignment during part of his sophomore season. He finished his prep days as the state tournament MVP and the coaches' pick as the state's player of the year. He averaged 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists.

When the time came to go to college, Bigelow had opportunities to go to numerous schools, including Utah, St. Joseph's, San Jose State and Oregon. Instead, he followed his dream of playing for BYU when he joined Daniel Bobik as the first players to sign with new BYU coach Steve Cleveland.

"Mark has a great feel for the game," Cleveland says. "He is a very intelligent player who lets the game come to him. He is also an exceptional young man and a very good influence on other people, on and off the court."

A genuine and naturally positive person, Bigelow felt he would enjoy the BYU experience. He followed his heart and his family when he decided to come to Provo. Both of Bigelow's parents and all of his older siblings have attended BYU.

"I always wanted to come to BYU," Bigelow says. "I was raised on BYU."

When Mark enrolled in September 1998, no one in Provo was sure what this skinny, then 6-foot-6 freshman would do. By March 1999, no one in Provo would soon forget what he had done.

Bigelow was the team's leading scorer (15.0 ppg) and rebounder (6.3 rpg) and was named the Western Athletic Conference Pacific Division Freshman of the Year. A member of the WAC Newcomer Team, he had four double-doubles, scored 20 or more points nine times and reached double figures in 23 of 28 games to earn All-WAC Second Team honors.

Even while he was on his mission, BYU fans kept that memory alive as they anticipated his return. Mark certainly didn't shoot many shots serving in Fort Lauderdale, but he did grow an inch to 6-foot-7 during his two years in Florida. Since his return, he hasn't disappointed Cougar fans, even though he is not yet 100 percent physically because of the two-year layoff.

"I loved my mission," Bigelow says without any regret. "It is the best thing I have done in my life."

After a short stay in Olympia once getting home in June, Bigelow came to Provo to work out with his teammates and spend extra time on his game. Once again, his hard work is paying dividends.

In his first game back in the Marriott Center this year, Bigelow scored 31 points against Arizona State to lead BYU to a win over the Sun Devils. This year's team, picked to finish sixth in the Mountain West Conference, is off to a strong start and already has voters wishing to reconsider their predictions. As a sophomore, Bigelow leads the team in scoring at 17.5 points per game and has made a three-pointer in every game, making better than 47 percent of his threes. He has made 93 percent of his free throws.

If he keeps up his current pace, he is likely to hear a few more Danny Ainge comparison's during his final three seasons in Provo.

"I don't know if he's Danny Ainge, but he's a good basketball player and he's a good kid," says Bigelow's father Michael.

Meanwhile, Mark just continues to try to become the best Mark Bigelow he can be. And why not, because while there certainly are not too many like Danny Ainge, it is becoming more and more apparent that there may not be many like Mark Bigelow either.