There’s a fine line between want and need, and the closer you come to the second, the more willing you are to take a leap of faith.
For Brandon Brine and the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns men’s basketball team, each had reached a point where need was dominating their thinking. As a result, Horns head coach Mike Hansen trusted what he saw on YouTube videos about a 22-year-old Australian post player who had not yet played at a post-secondary level. Likewise, Brine trusted his gut, advice from friends and family and that Hansen’s portrayal of life at the U of L would match his vision. One semester into their relationship – so far, so good.
“I always wanted to play college basketball whether it be in the U.S. or here, but I didn’t really have the contacts to make it happen,” says Brine, a native of Adelaide, South Australia. “This just came at me out of nowhere and I jumped at it because it’s always what I wanted to do.”
Hansen adds that timing is everything.
“I got the Horns’ coaching job very late in the year and we knew we needed to replace Derek Waldner as well as add some depth in the post,” says Hansen. “Brandon’s video highlights immediately impressed me as his athleticism and great hands are two skills you can’t teach. We did our due diligence and when we found out that Brandon had been a part of the Australian National Team program, we knew we had a potential steal of a recruit.”
Brine’s assimilation to Canadian life, Pronghorn culture and Canada West basketball has been virtually seamless. Despite a pre-season shoulder injury, the 6-foot-6 forward has forced his way into the Horns’ starting five and helped stake the Pronghorns to a 7-3 record in the first half. He capped off his rookie semester by scoring a career-high 27 points and hauling down nine rebounds as the Horns beat the University of Regina 91-89 on Nov. 30. His fadeaway jumper with 4.5 seconds to play was the game-winning shot and he was later named the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Male Athlete of the Week.
“Once I got the strap off my shoulder and started to get confidence, that’s when I started to play my game,” says Brine. “My theory is that I’m never good enough. I’m in here five/six days a week shooting and working on my game and just because I’m in the starting five now, it doesn’t mean I take my foot off the pedal. I’m always working to compete with myself.”
Brine was a multi-sport athlete as a youth but unlike many of his friends, who would be lured to pursue Aussie Rules Football, cricket or rugby, basketball was his sport of choice. He excelled in the Australian club system and participated in a host of international tours, playing in the U.S. four times, as well as in China and Japan.
With no post-secondary basketball options available in Australia, he was training with Adelaide’s professional team when the U of L beckoned.
“I really felt that it would take Brandon a year to get acclimated to southern Alberta and CIS basketball, but there are certain people who are open to new experiences and Brandon is one of them,” says Hansen. “He has made Lethbridge his home and has fit in and embraced the opportunity to experience a new culture and area of the world.”
Brine is studying kinesiology with the goal of becoming a physiotherapist, and is excited about being back in the classroom.
“Probably the biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is the school aspect, just getting back into doing homework,” he says. “I graduated from high school in 2008 and haven’t done any post-secondary schooling until now. It’s been a little bit of an adjustment but after the first month, it’s just become routine.”
It’s also becoming routine to see his name pop on the stat sheet. Brine says the run-and-gun style of play the Horns employ suits his game.
“The one thing I’ve had over most post players I’ve played against is my athleticism and being able to get up and down the floor,” he says. “I prefer to have a face-up game. I’m trying to work on my post game to become a little bit more lethal, but right now my strength is to face the basket and either shoot the open shot or take the guy off the dribble.”
He’s quickly adapted to the Canadian lifestyle. He spent the holiday season with his girlfriend and her family, says he loves the snow and is thrilled to be immersed in a basketball community.
“Back in Australia, the biggest crowd I would have played in front of was 150 to 200 people. So here, when you hit a three-pointer or get a dunk, the crowd goes nuts and it’s a great feeling. It gives you that extra shot of adrenaline and keeps the team rolling. I love that.”
The ability Hansen sees in Brine is unbridled.
“I believe he has the potential to be an All-Canadian, he is that gifted,” he says. “He needs to improve defensively and develop a more consistent back to the basket game, but in my opinion he is the most athletic player in the league.”
Maybe even more impressive is how Brine has fit into the Horns program, a testament not only to Brine and his upbringing but also to the culture of basketball in southern Alberta and of the U of L campus.
“The people, the town, everything just seems so homey. I feel so comfortable here,” says Brine. “Straight away, Mike’s been really good introducing me to everyone, my teammates are great – it just feels like a second home.”
Hansen knows full well the value the community brings to the program.
“I came here 23 years ago thinking I’d be here for four years, get my degree and head home,” he says. “Then you discover you’re not only welcomed to southern Alberta, we adopt you as one of our own. Brandon is a special kid, he comes from a great family and it’s reflected in his character. I think that’s what he’s enjoyed the most of being here, he has a home away from home.”