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
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.”
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.
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.