Article, 2007-2008 Season - Ohlone Renegades Men's Basketball
Cal State spark-plug Bass has come a long way
By Kevin Pearson.
March 3, 2008—Reprinted from The Press-Enterprise.
SAN BERNARDINO - The day before his 21st birthday, Renardo Bass grabbed two pairs of basketball shoes from his closet, threw them and some clothes into a couple of travel bags and zipped the bags shut with his callused hands, worn and cracked from a summer spent doing construction work.
As he left the house in Virginia that he shared with his younger siblings, whom he helped look after and support, he did so with $50 in his pocket and hope that this opportunity was real, and not some elaborate hoax that would leave him stranded on the other side of the country with no home, no transportation and no dream.
Three years later, Bass is making the most out of every chance he gets.
Bass' journey has brought him to Cal State San Bernardino, where the well-built, 6-foot junior guard has been a bright spot this season and helped the Coyotes win a share of the conference title. They'll open the postseason tonight when they host UC San Diego in the first round of the California Collegiate Athletic Association tournament at Coussoulis Arena.
"You don't always get chances like this," said Bass, who never graduated from high school or played organized basketball prior to college. "It was almost too good to be true."
Leap of Faith
For Bass, the chance to play in the upcoming Division II tournament is the byproduct of making plenty of sacrifices along the way.
The eldest of seven kids whose father was never in the picture, Bass dropped out of high school prior to his junior year so he could work full time and help support his younger siblings in the rough town of Norfolk, where nearly one in five families lives below the poverty line.
Bringing in a paycheck while working as a brick mason, Bass found solace in his time on the court, playing pick-up games with friends. He was secretly envious when his friends found opportunities to play college basketball. Figuring he'd never get that shot, Bass focused on supporting the family.
But that changed one fateful day in 2005 when he went to go play what he thought was a pick-up game. Instead he stumbled onto one of the many hoops showcases that pepper the East Coast, where middle-men serve as scouts to California's community colleges.
After the showcase, Bass was approached and told to call John Peterson, coach of the men's team at Ohlone College in Northern California's Bay Area [emphasis added]. When Bass did, Peterson said he had heard of him and figured he would be a good fit. Unable to provide a scholarship, all Peterson could offer was a chance to get an education and the potential for a scholarship to a four-year school down the road.
Bass wavered, not wanting to risk leaving his family without another source of income. But two days before school was set to begin, Peterson called again, telling Bass that he needed to be there or the team would move on without him. So Bass, unable to afford the plane ticket, sold his 1991 Honda Civic for $350 -- the cost of the ticket -- packed his belongings and left behind all he had ever known.
"It took a lot for him just to get out here," said Cal State forward Joseph Tillman, one of Bass' roommates. "It was all or nothing for him."
Always independent and a self-described loner, the soft-spoken Bass instantly bonded with Peterson's family-first environment at Ohlone [emphasis added], where his hustle quickly earned him playing time. But off the court, Bass was lonely living in Fremont. He spoke to his family only when he could afford to and lived off bread and water for weeks on end, sometimes sharing a two-bedroom apartment with as many as seven others.
Two months after his arrival, Bass' mother was convicted of a parole violation and sent back to jail, which nearly caused Bass to return home.
"She told me to stay here and better myself," Bass said. "If I went home, it wasn't going to bring her out of jail. My way of overcoming it was to play hard."
And that's what Bass did, averaging 11 points and seven rebounds in earning second-team, All-State honors last year. When it was time to transfer, Peterson put Bass in touch with Cal State coach Jeff Oliver [emphasis added]. Instantly, Bass knew San Bernardino was where he belonged.
Both schools run similar systems and the coaches are good friends, enabling Bass to trust Oliver from the start. And just as importantly, Oliver could offer Bass scholarship money.
"He appreciates where he is at right now and he understands that he is fortunate to be in the situation he is in, and he's trying to make the most of it," Oliver said. "It shows a lot of character. He was smart enough to take the route of basketball and use it to his benefit."
Known as Cal State's Mr. Intangible, Bass has earned his playing time with his hustle. He dives for loose balls, takes charges and brings an energy to the court that is missing when he's on the bench.
"Whenever we need that big rebound or stop, he always comes through with it," guard Marlon Pierce said. "He's a great energy guy."
Bass, whose past couple years have been a whirlwind, hopes Cal State will make the Elite Eight so his family can drive to Springfield, Mass., to see him play. His mother has seen him on the court just once, when Cal State played UCLA on ESPN.
Bass had four points in 20 minutes in that game at Pauley Pavilion, which may have been the pinnacle of a career that once seemed so improbable.
"Everyone was so excited to see me make it in my journey," he said. "No one believed I could make it out here, but when everyone saw me on TV, it was like I had made it. I was living the dream.
"I still haven't gathered it all in. … It's still a dream to me. Every time I step on the court, it's like I can't believe I am actually here."
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