This isn’t supposed happen, unless you’re some kind of Hollywood scriptwriter, looking to pen a storyline to rival “Hoosiers”.
You know, player or team rises from the ashes, sinks the buzzer-beater to defy the odds and win the championship, everybody cries and goes home happy.
But this is real life, and 36-year-old basketball players, six years removed from playing a meaningful game, no less, aren’t supposed to get second chances.
Unless you’re Ransford Brempong.
Brempong, or ‘Rans’, is 36 – “36-years-young!” he’s quick to remind you – and one of the latest St. John’s Edge signings, introduced to the media Tuesday morning ahead of their Tuesday-night game against the Windsor Express, the Edge’s first game in the new year.
Brempong, a 6-8 forward, is the latest to be brought into Edge fold, along with 6-5 guard Tyler Haws. Haws is no slouch, either, the all-time leading scorer at Utah’s Brigham Young University.
But Brempong is certainly the most – shall we say – interesting of the two.
A native of Brampton, Ont., Brempong replaces Rudy Joly, who was cut loose, and fills one of the five Canadian roster spots on the St. John’s roster.
And while it’s been so far, so good for the expansion team in Newfoundland, the Edge had to get bigger.
Joly was big, for sure, at 6-10, but Edge coach Jeff Dunlap says Brempong brings more to the floor than Joly.
“We need more of a post presence, somebody who could block some shots,” said Dunlap. “We’re last in the league in blocked shots. We need somebody to protect the rim.
“Teams are getting too many straight line drives to the basket, too many free passes. Rans has a 7-3 wing span. He was unbelievable the first three days of practice, playing above the rim. That’s where he’s comfortable.”
Not that anybody’s seen that from Brempong of late.
A former Western Carolina University NCAA starter, Brempong played pro in the Netherlands and Germany, and spent eight years on Canada’s national team, where he was a teammate of Edge shooting star Carl English.
But a year after wearing the maple leaf in the 2008 Olympic qualifier in Athens, Greece, Brempong wrecked his knee, tearing the ACL, MCL and meniscus.
After sitting out a year rehabbing the injury, he returned to the court in Germany for the 2010-11 campaign and what would be his final year in a fully professional league… until now.
Life kicked in for Brempong. He got married, had three kids and settled into a career running four basketball academies in his new home of Vancouver.
“I love basketball,” he said. “It’s my one passion that’s shown me everything. I met my wife through basketball, I’ve seen the world through basketball. I owe a lot to the game.”
If the knee injury was a setback, it was nothing to what happened in 2012 when he suffered a broken back in a car accident on a mountain highway between Vancouver and Whistler.
But he recovered from a pair of broken vertebrae to resume his work at the academies. Life was good.
“It’s not like I was itching to get back playing,” he said. “I had no regrets. I was healthy, with a beautiful family.
“To be around the game and have the ball in my hand every day, for a lot of people who played pro, that’s a dream.”
Brempong found he still had a bounce in his step, and what’s more, a competitive drive to play. You can never replace that, he said.
So in the summer of 2016, he started making the drive south to Seattle to play in a pro-am league which featured NBA players, other pros and college guys looking to stay in shape in the off-season.
‘You’re not supposed to get better as you get older, but as I slowed down with age, I started to read the game a bit better, started to see angles, and see plays better. You just learn the game better.’
Brempong discovered he could still play. He was back in Seattle again last summer, going up against the likes of Jamal Crawford and Zach LaVine.
In one game, he dropped 40 points on Missouri college star Michael Porter Jr., who will be a top pick in this year’s NBA draft.
He showed enough in Seattle last summer that Canada’s national team coaching staff made him one of the 19 players invited to attend their training and selection camp.
“I surprised myself, and others, too. They’re like, ‘Rans, how are you not still playing?’ I was averaging 24 points and 16 rebounds. That brought back the hunger.
“Father Time is undefeated, so you have to do what you can to take care of your body, and I’ve done that. My father always said opportunities occur when people are prepared for them.
“If you love the game, you have to fight for it, and I did. I fought to get back to where I’m, arguably, a better player than I was in 2011.
“You’re not supposed to get better as you get older, but as I slowed down with age, I started to read the game a bit better, started to see angles, and see plays better. You just learn the game better.
“Luckily the injuries haven’t slowed me down.”
Edge assistant coach Doug Plumb was familiar with Brempong, having worked with him over the summer back in Vancouver.
Plumb assured Dunlap he wouldn’t be disappointed in Brempong.
“Doug said, ‘JD, trust me. He’s in shape. Bring him in. You’ll see,’” Dunlap recalls.
“I told Rans that this is a tryout, I want to see what you got. The first day he’s dunking on people, flying around the rim, and I’m like, ‘Why aren’t you still playing?!’”
Brempong said he didn’t go looking for an offer, but did admit the yearning to play was there, even if it meant playing men’s league back in Vancouver.
When Dunlap called with an offer, Brempong talked it over with his wife, who was fully supportive. With the business in good hands – he has reliable junior coaches in place, and he’ll be only gone for three months – Brempong jumped at an opportunity he says he couldn’t turn down.
“Now I get to relive a dream that maybe died a little bit too soon,” he said with a smile.
The additions of Brempong and Haws give the Edge a 12-man active roster. The other open roster spot came about when guard Colton Ray suffered a knee injury and was placed on injured reserve.
A 6-8 forward, Brempong averaged 7.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game during his four seasons of NCAA basketball with Western Carolina University, where he is currently the Southern Conference all-time leader in blocked shots … played eight years with Canada’s national team … played six years pro in the Netherlands and Germany, twice winning all-star honours and leading the Dutch league in rebounds and shot blocks … He was the Dutch league’s defensive player of the year in 2006 …
A 6-5 guard, Haws is Brigham Young University’s all-time leading scorer … He was the West Coast Conference’s player of the year in 2014, averaging 23.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.0 steals per game … The 26-year-old native of Alpine, Utah was a WCC all-conference first-team all-star in 2013, 2014 and 2015 … As a high schooler, Haws was twice named Utah’s Mr. Basketball … Scored 33 points in his final game, a 94-90 BYU loss to Ole Miss in the NCAA Tournament …