The words say it all. Former Yale basketball star Bradley Braich is shooting for new goals these days, including ending all of the stigmas surrounding mental illness. (Photo by Luke Ouellette property of Bigger Than Basketball 2019. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Boys Basketball

A Sunday Read: Why Bradley Braich counts his blessings and still celebrates the game through ‘Bigger Than Basketball’

ABBOTSFORD — It hasn’t even been 15 months since Bradley Braich delivered one of the most profoundly impactful messages I’ve received in almost 40 years as a reporter.

Despite being just 17 years of age at the time, the direct message he sent me via Twitter was so heartfelt, a part of it which read: “Hey Howard. This is Bradley Braich of Yale. I don’t know if you know about my story but I suffer from severe OCD, anxiety and depression… I think as an athlete suffering from mental illness, I could make a difference in people’s lives.”

Of course I knew him… knew him to be one of the most dynamic senior boys basketball players in our province over that 2017-18 season, and the youngest member of one of B.C.’s most venerable basketball families.

Yet from our first in-depth interview in early February of 2018, to the subsequent publication of that story (click here to re-visit the most-read story in Varsity Letters history), right through to the on-going example Braich, 19, has set in his community as a mental health advocate, the true depth and sincerity of the young man has just continued to shine through.

Former Yale Lions’ star basketball player Bradley Braich will stage the second annual Bigger Than Basketball all-star event Wednesday in Abbotsford. (Photo by Luke Ouellette property of Bigger Than Basketball 2019. All Rights Reserved)

On Wednesday evening, at Abbotsford’s Robert Bateman Secondary, the second annual Bigger Than Basketball high school all-star games, featuring a galaxy of Fraser Valley-area stars, will take to the court.

(full list of athletes included below)

The doors will open at 4:30 p.m., with the boys game (5 p.m.) opening the bill. At 6:30 p.m., a three-point shooting contest will be staged, and the event will wrap up with the girls all-star game (7:30 p.m.).

Last year, Braich debuted the event to an impressive level of success, raising $2,000 for the Canadian Mental Health Association.

This year?

“We would love to increase what we were able to raise last year,” Braich began, noting that the minimum entry fee of $5 for students and $7 for admission (free for kids five and under) would once again be donated to the Canadian Mental Health Association. “But we also want to really put the focus on what the event is about this year.”

If you are unable to attend Wednesday’s game but want to make a donation, click here.

Yale’s Bradley Braich has had to curtail a once-promising basketball career to better deal with OCD, anxiety and depression. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of 2019. All Rights Reserved)

It seems from the outside to be a paradox.

For all of his young life, Bradley Braich devoured the game of basketball. 

He practiced. He played. He planned. He plotted for a future in the university ranks which seemed inevitable.

And yet as his senior year at Yale unfolded in 2017-18, he came to the painful realization that in order to heal, he needed to walk away.

So why celebrate the thing he loved so much but can no longer do?

“I look at it like the basketball is the blessing part,” begins Braich. “If I was still able to play and be happy with it? I would do anything for that. So for all the girls and guys that are playing Wednesday, they need to have fun and play the game they love, but also know that there is a bigger purpose to what we’re doing.”

Bigger Than Basketball’s inaugural class of 2018 boys participants come together after a successful debut fund-raiser for the Canadian Mental Health Association. (Photo property of Abbotsford Basketball Association 2019. All rights reserved)

And that is fostering an environment free of shame and judgement, where those who need help with any of the myriad of mental health issues can know there is a caring and empathetic community ready to help. 

“For me, Bigger Than Basketball basically started when you told my story,” Braich says to me as he continues. “My whole life growing up was surrounded by basketball. Then, when I went through my mental struggles, l had to learn how to live without basketball. So mental health has to come before your sport… no matter what. You can’t ride-or-die on your sport. It can’t be everything.”

To that end, Braich has seen, especially at his old high school, a new level of acceptance and understanding unfold.

And if telling his story had even a little to do with it, that’s enough for him.

“I paid a visit to my old high school counsellor the other day and a group of them were saying that the amount of kids who now speak about their struggles is incredible,” Braich recounts.

“I don’t know too much about other schools, but at Yale over the last year, we’ve had so many come out about their struggles,” he added of both students and staff.

Braich in fact, has been asked to be a speaker at Yale on May 23 during the school’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

“There is definitely a wave hitting right now about people becoming more increasingly open about it,” Braich felt.




Rick Hansen’s Gurkaran Mangat is one of several top Fraser Valley-based high school stars who will play for a cause Wednesday at Robert Bateman Secondary. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of 2019. All Rights Reserved)

BOYS (5 p.m.)


Isaiah Peters (Robert Bateman), Manvir Johal (W.J. Mouat), Gurkaran Mangat (Rick Hansen), Ben Rogers (Abbotsford Christian), Harjot Dhaliwal (Rick Hansen), Prabh Saran (W.J. Mouat), Jake Nord-Leth (Chilliwack), Brandt Davies (Chilliwack), Gershaun Sarowa (W.J. Mouat), Darsh Brar (Robert Bateman)


Jalen Edwards (Abbotsford), Mark Destura (Abbotsford), Cole Wicker (G.W. Graham), Abby Kular (Abbotsford Traditional), Geevon Janday (G.W. Graham), Anmol Shoker (G.W. Graham), Jaskirat Purewal (Abbotsford), Asher Mayan (Langley Christian), Cole Addison (Langley Christian)

Before she heads off to Eastern Washington University, Brookswood senior Jenna Dick (left) will play in Bigger Than Basketball this Wednesday in Abbotsford. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of 2019. All Rights Reserved)

GIRLS (7:30 p.m.)

HOME (coach Dan Village)

Tana Pankratz (Yale, Victoria), Jae-Lynn Berger (Abbotsford Christian, The Kings), Karsen Lazeo (Robert Bateman, Columbia Bible), Jenna Dick (Brookswood, Eastern Washington), Hailey Van Roekel (Langley Christian, Douglas College), Jenessa Knapp (Brookswood, UBC Okanagan), Brooklyn White (Yale, Victoria), Kira Joaquin (Robert Bateman, Douglas), Deanna Tuchscherer (G.W. Graham, Fraser Valley), Karsen Look (Brookswood, Victoria).

AWAY (coaches Darren and Juanita Rowell)

Kailey Reimer (MEI, Trinity Western), Tavia Rowell (Walnut Grove, Grand Canyon), Amira Jensen (Robert Bateman, Thompson Rivers), Jessica Wisotzki (Walnut Grove, Simon Fraser), Jenna Van Roekel (Langley Christian), Kyla Smith (MEI), Tianna Chan (Rick Hansen), Rolande Taylor (Walnut Grove, Trinity Western), Jayden Gill (Robert Bateman, Trinity Western), Gurveer Chattu (Robert Bateman, Douglas).

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