Brandon Myers is 2 inches shorter than the tallest targets in the Bucs offense, but the 6-foot-3 tight end's background in basketball certainly qualifies him as a "Dunkaneer."
Myers made a strong debut in Sunday's loss to Carolina, catching a team-high six passes for 41 yards. But before he filled out into a football star at Iowa, he — like fellow Bucs newcomers Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins — was better known for his exploits on the hardwood.
"In high school, he was a better basketball player than he was a football player," said Fred Lorensen, his basketball coach at Prairie City-Monroe High, about 20 miles east of Des Moines. "He was a really good football player, but he was awesome in basketball. He was an all-state player when he was a freshman."
Myers led Prairie City-Monroe High to a 27-0 record and a state championship as a senior, going out with 31 points and 18 rebounds in a double-overtime win in the final as a 205-pound power forward.
"That was some time ago, but back in the day, I could play some basketball," said Myers, whose basketball prowess lingered long enough that Bucs defensive end Adrian Clayborn, a teammate at Iowa, remembers him from campus pickup games.
The first recruiting interest he drew from Iowa was in basketball, where then-coach Steve Alford was on him as a freshman. Myers was invited to an elite national Nike basketball camp, where he lined up against the likes of Chris Paul.
The day before signing day his senior year, he was committed to play basketball and football at Northern Iowa. But Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz called with a last-minute offer, luring him away to a future in football.
"I knew I could play basketball at the next level, but maybe not as high a level as I wanted to play," Myers said. "When Coach Ferentz came calling, it was a pretty easy decision."
Myers caught only one pass in his first two seasons with the Hawkeyes, needing time to focus on football full-time and add to a 220-pound frame. Now 29 and in his sixth NFL season, he's at 256 pounds, skilled as a blocker and a pass-catcher.
Myers' emergence in the NFL took time as well. He caught four passes as a rookie with the Raiders and still had no touchdowns and just 32 catches after three seasons. He exploded in 2012, catching 79 passes for 806 yards, then had 47 for 522 yards with the Giants last season.
The Bucs were deep enough at tight end in the preseason that Tim Wright was traded to the Patriots in a deal that brought Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins to Tampa. That means more passes for Myers, Seferian-Jenkins and Luke Stocker, with tight ends accounting for 40 percent of the passing yards Sunday.
"Brandon Myers has been a great addition," coach Lovie Smith said. "Brandon has done a real good job of helping Austin with different things and nuances of that position. I feel good where we are with that group as a whole."
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Myers was in the right place at the right time Sunday, jumping on a loose ball to recover a fumble caused by a sack of Bucs quarterback Josh McCown. He's used to adjusting to new schemes at the start of a season — he's playing for his sixth offensive coordinator.
Myers was one of four players signed by the Bucs on the first day of free agency, sharing a stage with corner Alterraun Verner, defensive end Michael Johnson and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald as the start of a new nucleus. Back home, there's a new cluster of Bucs fans in Prairie City, proud of the football player that Myers has become.
"He's just really humble about things, understands where he came from, his roots and everything," Lorensen said. "He's a great ambassador for our school and our community."
Contact Greg Auman at firstname.lastname@example.org and (813) 226-3346. Follow @gregauman.