Hoops dream was never a slam dunk

At age 36, Bramp­ton’s Brem­pong is on the Cana­dian men’s na­tional team ros­ter, five years af­ter a car crash nearly took his life

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - DOUG SMITH SPORTS REPORTER

He came out of nowhere, re­ally, this dude from Van­cou­ver who’d drive down to Seat­tle and play in that city’s highly re­garded Pro-Am sum­mer bas­ket­ball league, a glo­ri­fied open gym chock full of tal­ent and com­pet­i­tive­ness, NBA guys stay­ing sharp and all-com­ers who wanted to prove their met­tle.

He’d been out­stand­ing in 2016 and opened a few eyes and was even bet­ter this year, when he’d line up against a Ja­mal Craw­ford or a Nate Robin­son, maybe a Zach LaVine, and more than hold his own.

He drove down one day, stiffly got out of his car feel­ing every day of his rel­a­tively ad­vanced age of 36 and hung 41 and 18 on this Michael Porter Jr. kid who just might be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA draft. Sure, Porter went off for 48 points and re­bounds in the 20s, but he’s sup­posed to do that. Old men who aren’t re­ally play­ing bas­ket­ball of any sort don’t do what he did and, be­sides, the in­ter­loper’s team won and that’s the whole thing about games, isn’t it? To win. “They gave me the nick­name ‘The 18th

“My mind­set is I’m al­ways a glass-half-full type of guy, it’s just the way I al­ways am.” RENS BREM­PONG CANA­DIAN HOOPS VET­ERAN

Let­ter’ be­cause that’s R and that stands for re­spect,” Rans Brem­pong says, proudly.

“For me, it was a lot of fun, just be­ing back around the game, prov­ing my­self again.”

Not bad for a guy who could very well have been dead five years ago and who can con­sider him­self lucky to even be walk­ing to­day af­ter lit­er­ally a back-break­ing car crash on a Bri­tish Columbia moun­tain high­way.

Brem­pong — Bramp­ton na­tive, Thorn­lea Sec­ondary School star, Western Carolina stand­out, Cana­dian na­tional team mem­ber and European pro in Ger­many — says he was lucky com­ing out of that two-car crash.

It was on the moun­tain high­way be­tween Van­cou­ver and Whistler in 2012, if you can call break­ing your T-4 and T-5 ver­te­brae “lucky.”

Yeah, he could have died, might have fallen off the moun­tain, but break­ing your back is noth­ing to laugh at. Break­ing your back when you’re 31 years old and a pro­fes­sional bas­ket­ball player can be phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally crip­pling. Brem­pong was hav­ing none of it. “My mind­set is I’m al­ways a glass-half­full type of guy, it’s just the way I al­ways am,” he said af­ter a week back in Canada’s na­tional team camp last month, a sur­prise ad­di­tion to the camp ros­ter whose pres­ence opened a few eyes and brought back dor­mant mem­o­ries. “Not to say I don’t get down like ev­ery­one but I usu­ally try to see the pos­i­tives in things. So I just said when it hap­pened, I was re­ally grate­ful that it wasn’t worse. I could have lost my life.

“I think maybe I’m very mod­est with things some times and I don’t fully ex­press my­self, but there was a time, two years, maybe a year-and-a-half, when I couldn’t sit in a car for more than a cou­ple of hours, I couldn’t bend down and pick up my kids.

“There was a time where I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m go­ing to get back.’ But I thought if I put in this work and I fo­cus on the process, all I can do is work and hope­fully things will turn out and they did.”

Work is noth­ing new to the mar­ried fa­ther of three who runs and co-or­di­nates a hand­ful of youth bas­ket­ball pro­grams in the Van­cou­ver area. He shred­ded his knee in 2011 and came back from it, he made na­tional teams out of open try­outs rather than as a hand-picked in­vi­tee.

Work is what he did and knew best.

“He’s one of the most emo­tion­ally con­sis­tent and easy­go­ing peo­ple I know,” says Sam Gibbs, one of Canada’s lead­ing ath­letic ther­a­pists who has worked with Canada Bas­ket­ball, the Rap­tors and var­i­ous Olympic teams for more than a decade. “Even in cri­sis — and he’s had his fair share — he’s ridicu­lously calm. It’s served him well; you al­ways know what you’re go­ing to get from him as a player, and a hu­man.”

Brem­pong’s re­turn to high-level com­pe­ti­tion in the Pa­cific North­west has rekin­dled not only his love of the game but the com­pet­i­tive­ness that made him “the Rus­sell West­brook of FIBA be­fore West­brook hit the NBA,” ac­cord­ing to for­mer na­tional team coach Leo Rautins.

He didn’t make the na­tional team this sum­mer but he opened eyes dur­ing the week-long train­ing camp, maybe in­clud­ing his own.

“This has maybe given me a mind­set of maybe there are a cou­ple years left of me play­ing if that’s some­thing they’re open to,” he said.

“You only live once, let’s do it for a cou­ple of years, like a sab­bat­i­cal. “Life’s short.” How Brem­pong might fit into the cur­rent Canada Bas­ket­ball pro­gram re­mains to be seen.

On a team starved for size and ex­pe­ri­ence head­ing into the Novem­ber qual­i­fi­ca­tion process for the 2019 World Cup with­out ac­cess to its NBA play­ers, he could get a longer look at join­ing that team in Hal­i­fax.

“Un­for­tu­nately for us a lot of our big guys have com­mit­ments to their pro teams . . . we thought we’d give him a call, see where his mind’s at, he came in and he was phe­nom­e­nal,” said in­terim na­tional se­nior team coach Roy Rana. “What an in­cred­i­ble ges­ture to come in and work with our younger play­ers, give his ex­pe­ri­ence and put his body through this.

“He’s still got some game and it was spe­cial for us to have him back and hope­fully we can keep get­ting him in­volved in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ca­pac­i­ties.”

There could be op­por­tu­ni­ties in coach­ing or train­ing as part of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s West Coast di­vi­sion. And now with his love for the game at the fore­front and his as­so­ci­a­tion with Canada Bas­ket­ball re­newed, the chances in­crease.

“Typ­i­cally, play­ers whose strength lies in their jump­ing abil­ity and elas­tic­ity break down, but Rans hasn’t, it’s un­canny,” the ath­letic ther­a­pist Gibbs said.

“His bas­ket­ball acu­men is on the rise and he’s ac­tu­ally as ef­fec­tive a player as he’s ever been. It’s fan­tas­tic to have him play­ing again, and with the way he per­formed with us in camp, I wouldn’t be at all sur­prised if we see him back on a pro ros­ter some­time soon.”

But what­ever the fu­ture holds on the court, Brem­pong’s jour­ney back from that night on that moun­tain high­way in Bri­tish Columbia should be in­spi­ra­tional and stands as a tes­ta­ment to his work ethic and per­son­al­ity. The 18th Let­ter, in­deed. “I am liv­ing the dream,” he said. “I got wo­ken up out of that dream for a mo­ment in time.

“I’m not up­set where my life has been. I’m not sit­ting there with re­grets. I’ve done great things with my life to this point.”

JEFF VINNICK/FOR THE TORONTO STAR

Rans Brem­pong is the poster boy for per­se­ver­ance; at age 36, he’s on the Cana­dian men’s bas­ket­ball team ros­ter de­spite ad­ver­sity and in­jury.

JEFF VINNICK/FOR THE TORONTO STAR

Rans Brem­pong works out at the Kit­si­lano Beach courts in Van­cou­ver. Five years ago, the Bramp­ton na­tive was in a car crash that nearly took his life.

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