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Pitman grad gets playing time as UC Merced freshman
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Pitman High graduate and UC Merced freshman Branson Garcia gets fouled as he attempts to score for the Bobcats Thursday against Menlo College Oaks. Garcia has started in all three preseason games this season. - photo by CANDY PADILLA / The Journal

It didn’t take long for Branson Garcia to take a big step forward and earn a starting position at the University of California, Merced as a member of the Bobcat men's basketball team.

It took four games to be exact for the former Pitman High star to emerge as a potential difference maker and starter but it wasn’t the easiest road.

Luckily for Garcia he has the level of commitment and drive to become the best he possibly can and he hasn’t even reached his potential. Instead he humbly accepts the challenge and is working steadily towards improving his game every second he's on the court.

Garcia, who was known in the area as a superstar that could, ‘do it all,’ was heavily regarded as a top scorer but since entering UC Merced as  Bobcat his transition as a defensive player has assisted his growth as a complete player.

 “College has been a great experience so far, it's very busy but always exciting,” said Garcia who has started three games heading into today’s matchup. “We preach hard work and defense so definitely my hustle and transition I’ve made to a more defensive player has gotten me on the court.”

Learning to balance his school and social life in high school was one thing but after entering the college atmosphere things have only evolved but Garcia doesn’t seem to have lost any focus. Luckily for Garcia, the resources at his disposal have also been great help.

“Being a student-athlete has always been a challenge, but it is an even bigger one in college,” said Garcia. “It’s been tough learning to balance time around studying and working on my game, but it’s something I’ve been continually getting better at because they are very helpful here with student-athletes.”

In his first start back on Nov.20 against Oregon Institute of Technology, Garcia played over 19 minutes and contributed with five points and a turnover, forcing his opponent to shoot 2-for-8 from the field.

Garcia followed up his first start with a staggering performance the following night as he tied Rob Chappelle on his team with a game-high 12 points after shooting 3-for-6 from three-point range, adding two rebounds in the process.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a starter so early in my career,” said Garcia. “I have put in a lot of hard work to get where I am. I sometimes feel pressured knowing I’m representing my school in an important role on our team, but all the support from coaches and teammates has helped me stay calm.”

UC Merced is off to a 2-5 start in seven games, heading into the weekend matchup but things look great for the Bobcats and Garcia.

“I’ve learned pretty quickly that you get out what you put in,” Garcia added. “I feel the remainder of the season looks good for us. We are going to stick to our philosophy of defense and continue to gel together as a team to get as many wins as we can.”