NORTH DELTA — “You could say he was larger than life,” Jesse Hundal said. “People just gravitated to him.”
Added Gary Sandhu: “I have never seen his kind of leadership and intensity before. It’s something I will never forget. He exuded so much confidence and strength. When I think of him, I think of that strength, of his pure leadership. And how he always smiling, too.”
Hundal and Sandhu, both high school basketball coaches, choked back their emotions on Friday afternoon and delivered the words that best described Brandon Bassi, a multi-sport star and 2018 graduate of North Delta Secondary School who passed away on Thursday at the tender age of 19 to injuries sustained in an automobile accident in the early hours of May 18.
Sandhu and Hundal had coached Bassi on the basketball court since the eighth grade, and had joined his family in watching with pride as the 6-foot-4, 188-pounder had embarked on his post-secondary career as a soccer player within the Simon Fraser Clan’s national title-contending NCAA men’s program atop Burnaby Mountain.
“There are no words to express the pain and feeling of loss we are all experiencing,” Clan head coach Clint Schneider said on the school’s website. “We lost a tremendous individual. Brandon was an outstanding teammate, student and friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Bassi family during this extremely difficult time.”
SPORT HELPED FORGE HIS IDENTITY
Basketball may have been his second love after soccer, but when you were talking about who Brandon Bassi was as a person, his true personality transcended any one particular sport.
In fact sport just happened to be the perfect vehicle for him to reveal his true personality to others.
And so as the countless people he touched in B.C.’s soccer and basketball communities mourn his passing, his teachers and coaches at North Delta Secondary spoke from the heart when it came to honouring the impact he had and will continue to have.
This past March, North Delta’s Huskies triumphed in grand fashion by winning the B.C. Triple A senior boys basketball championship before a sold-out house at the Langley Events Centre.
The team was led by its senior stars like MVP Suraj Gahir, Arun Atker and Ryan Cabico.
He had graduated the season before, captaining a Huskies’ squad that made it all the way to the Final Four and an eventual third-place provincial finish.
Yet on the happy night in question, this past March 9, when North Delta finally did it, capturing its first B.C. title since 1990, Bassi was there, storming the court as the final buzzer sounded in a tense 46-44 win over the Vernon Panthers.
He cut a path straight to Ryan Cabico, the team’s smallest player, hoisting him on his shoulders as ‘We Are The Champions’ began to play.
Every coach on the North Delta team will tell you that without the belief Bassi instilled in the rising Class of 2019 group, the Huskeis would not have won the title this season.
And of course, there was the reason that Bassi hoisted Cabico.
“Ryan had come from The Philippines two years ago, and right from the start, Brandon just had to make sure that Ryan knew that he belonged,” remembered Hundal of the way Bassi welcomed his new classmate to a new country and helped him adjust to a new culture and learn a new language.
“We knew we were taking Ryan on our team just because of his raw ability,” Sandhu added of Cabico, who went on to become a second-team B.C. all-star after just three seasons in the game. “But we also knew he needed help because he didn’t speak much English. Brandon is the one who made him feel like he was a part of our group.”
So much so in fact that Cabico, not know as the hugging type, burst into tears when Bassi embraced him in the seconds after the Huskies won the title.
“Brandon may not have played on our team this year,” said Hundal of Bassi, “but we still wouldn’t have won it without him. The season before, it was his leadership example. I look at our guys this year, guys like Suraj and Arun, and I could see that they all had a little bit of Brandon in them.”
Yet it went even deeper.
“We had brought him back as a guest coach and mentor this past season,” Hundal says of Bassi. “He loved it, and we all began to realize what a great teacher this guy could be. He decided that he was going to go into education and he was going to volunteer in our classrooms this coming September. He was just an amazing guy who came from an amazing family.”
EVERY DAY… WITH PRIDE AND DIGNITY
Bassi, a first year student in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, had proudly followed in the soccer footsteps of older brother Derrick, an SFU alumnus who like his younger brother would help out where needed, as he did two years ago in coaching the Huskies boys soccer team.
Brandon Bassi, who also played soccer for Langley’s CCB LFC United, took a red-shirt season in 2018 as a Clan freshman and was preparing to see his first Great Northwest Athletic Conference action this coming fall with an SFU team which has long been the class of its conference.
Hundal could not help but speak to the Brandon Bassi he continued see after his high school graduation, but also to the one he saw easing so well into early adulthood.
The common thread was the consistent way in which he greeted his world.
“I texted him a couple of weeks ago and I told him to come in and see me,” Hundal remembered Friday of the 45 minutes he shared with Bassi back at the old high school on May 7.
“When he came to see me I gave him a championship t-shirt and a provincial champion jacket,” continued Hundal who was also joined by senior forward Vik Hayer that day. “Usually, we greet each other with a handshake, but on that day we embraced with a hug.
“We shared memories of the days that he played with us,” Hundal continued. “And then we talked about that day back in 2016 at the B.C. junior championships.”
It was the first day of the provincial championships at the Langley Events Centre and the Huskies were huge underdogs in the opening round against a powerful Burnaby South Rebels team.
Tragically, Bassi’s grandfather had passed away earlier that same day.
“But he still showed up because he said he had to honour his commitment to the rest of the boys,” an awestruck Hundal remembers of a game North Delta went on to lose 66-59.
“I can remember that we had to go and get our team pictures taken before that game and while we were waiting, I said to Brandon ‘No one will think any less of you if you don’t play.’ But he said to me ‘My actions as a captain should reflect my leadership. We have been working too long for this.’
“And so with his tears coming down, he went out and he played.”
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