The Fraser Valley Bandits basketball team kicked off their inaugural season in the brand new Canadian Elite Basketball League at the Abbotsford Centre last Thursday, falling to the Guelph Nighthawks in their opening game.
Among the roster of young talent is a former Canadian national team player, who now calls North Vancouver home.
Ransford Brempong has been around the game a long time. At 38, he’s an elder statesman who brings a wealth of experience to the Bandits roster. Brempong says that’s exactly what team management was looking for.
“They reached out to me and just said they were looking for someone that could be that veteran presence in the locker room and amongst the guys,” said Brempong. “They know for me that I’m fully bought in and I’ll do whatever I can on my part to be as ready as I can be, for a guy who’s almost retired.”
That all-in attitude has been consistent throughout his playing career. His basketball journey begins in Toronto, when he didn’t make his Grade 9 team. By his last year of high school basketball, he was a top-five player in Toronto.
“Obviously a lot of things happened in that time, but for me, not making the team always kept me with that fire of really working hard, proving people wrong and blazing my own path. The fact that I’m still playing now, fast forward to 38 is kind of a testament to that.”
Brempong received a full ride scholarship to play Division One collegiate ball for Western Carolina University. He played there for five years, and became one of the Southern Conference’s all-time leaders in blocked shots.
“That was my main skill when I first started,” explained Brempong. “I used that to sort of springboard me into different positions where I got to compete at higher levels.”
After representing Canada at a junior level in 2000, Brempong hoped to be rewarded for his efforts by being called up to the men’s national team. He never got the call, but that fire first ignited in Grade 9 could not be extinguished.
“Instead of hanging my head, I just went back to the walk-on tryout again and proved to them that it wasn’t a coincidence. That was the way I worked and that was what I was going to bring every day, in terms of my work ethic.”
Brempong would go on to represent Canada for eight years. His last summer was 2008, where he played alongside Kelly Olynyk, Joel Anthony and Rowan Barrett. Brempong had high praise for Barrett, and has followed a similar career path.
“The fact that he was still playing at 38, I remember we all had so much respect for him. At that time I was maybe 29, and just thinking of him having a family and doing all this stuff was crazy.”
Brempong fondly remembers seeing Rowan’s young son R.J. corralling loose shots for the team at practice. His efforts have certainly paid off, as R.J. is a projected top pick in this year’s NBA draft.
After a successful playing career overseas in Holland and Germany, Brempong felt like he was ready to retire.
“Real life hit me for however long that’s been, nine years. I’ve been lucky to stay around the game and have a ball in my hand throughout those times. I’ve found a way to keep myself in shape.”
Brempong has spent the last decade living in North Vancouver, doing all he can to contribute to the growth of basketball on the North Shore. He runs an after school program for elementary school students called 3PointBasketball, as well as academies at Argyle, Seycove and Saint Thomas Aquinas. He coached the STA junior boys this season, and says it was great to have a group he was able to lock in with.
“We had a lot of ups and downs, but way more ups,” he said. “We were able to win the North Shore Championship this year, which was the first time in a long time for that group of boys.”
Brempong says the appetite for basketball on the North Shore has never been hungrier, particularly on the women’s side. He credits the efforts made by academies like VanCity, 3D & AthElite.
“I think we’re at a point where we’ll start seeing players achieving at higher levels. That’s my goal, that’s why I have a ball in my hand every day. I want to affect the change in places where I am.”
The preparation for the upcoming season with the Bandits hasn’t been easy for Brempong. As he puts it, Father Time is undefeated.
“I’ve been hurting. I’ve realized I can’t do things as quickly, and I shouldn’t even try, because if I do, that’s an injury waiting to happen. Once you’ve played sports a lot you can slow down plays.”
As his game has evolved over the years, and his body has started feeling the effects of a long playing career, Brempong says his experience makes him an effective presence on the court.
“It’s sort of like playing chess. If you’re an amateur player and you only pick one move, and someone else who knows how to play the game is thinking three or four moves in front of you, you’ll always lose. Sports is the same way.”
This more cerebral approach to the game is something that Brempong picked up during his career with the national team, after playing against one of the all-time greats.
“I was lucky enough to play against Kobe Bryant, and I remember that was the one thing that stood out to me. You thought you had him guarded, and he was like three plays ahead of you every single time.”
Brempong says he relishes this new opportunity to play with the Bandits, as his children, friends and family will be able to watch him play without travelling too far.
“Ninety per cent of the guys that play aren’t going to be playing till they’re 38, that’s not the norm. Careers end abruptly and usually they’re done before you’re 35. Anytime I’m able to step onto a court it’s a blessing to me.”
Though he doesn’t know quite how the Bandits will utilize him this season, Brempong says that one thing’s for sure: this new opportunity with the Bandits is one that he isn’t taking for granted.
“There’s nothing promised, and I have no hard feelings if it doesn’t work out, but I’m not a guy that will never not do something because I’m afraid of failing.”