There’s a tattoo that pretty much says it all about Kaspars Brencans.
The new big man on the Purdue Calumet basketball team has a large lower left leg tattoo that depicts a forest, which represents his hometown of Riga, Latvia, the country’s capital.
Among the trees is a pine, which stands for his family, an evergreen, ever-steady part of his life he still visits in the summers, and above the trees are departing birds -- a total of seven, a number that represents victory.
The birds represent Brencans leaving the nest, yet staying in touch with his roots.
Brencans got the tattoo when he was still in Ohio, where he played basketball sparingly for two seasons for NCAA Division II power Findlay.
Since getting the ink, however, he has decided the countryside lifestyle isn’t for him. He took one fateful train ride into Hammond and landed a spot at Purdue Calumet, which just happens to have a bird -- the peregrine -- as a mascot and equip its athletes with T-shirts bearing the athletic department slogan of “Take Flight.”
“The birds (on the tattoo) are taking flight,” Brencans said. “That’s me -- taking flight, making goals, playing basketball and being the best me I can be.
“That’s me, I’m a proud Peregrine.”
Brencans began playing basketball in fourth grade but did not dream of playing collegiately in America until he watched a regular-season college game on TV in seventh grade. He played club ball throughout Latvia and traveled to play in Russia, Estonia, Lithuania and select eastern European countries.
His desire to play high school ball in America took two years to come to fruition, due to various issues with housing, international relations, etc. He ended up playing his junior and senior seasons at Florida Air Academy -- a military-style small school with dorms, plenty of international students and the option of taking flight classes and mandatory ROTC classes in Melbourne, Fla. -- alongside several Division I players, including Florida senior Will Yeguete.
There he experienced many of his culture shock moments and had trouble adapting to Latvian-to-English translations, especially in science classes.
“Basketball-wise, I was really, really impressed when I came to the United States,” Brencans said. “Playing here made me a much better player with all that talent around me. I tried to emphasize the European aspects that I know and combine them with the athletic, fast basketball that is played in America.”
After averaging 10 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per game as a senior, Brencans went to the University of Findlay (Ohio) where he excelled academically but managed a meager output of playing time and points for the Oilers, who were a combined 46-15 in his time there.
When he was looking for a transfer, his coach emailed Chicago-area coaches he knew, and that’s when Purdue Calumet coach Dan Voudrie found the needle in the email haystack.
Many college coaches are inundated with emails, but Voudrie sprung to action when Findlay said a 6-foot-7 athletic Latvian with a GPA over 3.5 was looking to play close to or in the city.
“His combination of academic success in his first two years along with the potential he brought to the table with his size and overall skill set -- that made him a very appealing prospect to us,” Voudrie said. “He selected us as his destination of choice, and it was good fortune for us and a great opportunity for him as well.”
Brencans has thus far been a hit with teammates, who love the entrepreneurship major’s accent and are curious of his world travels.
“The line I appreciated most from the Findlay coaches was, ‘Red, yellow, blue or purple, Kaspars can be anybody’s friend,’” Voudrie said. He’s a Renaissance man who can adapt to young and old, all cultures. He’s very well-adapted and adapts to every situation. We’re fortunate to have him.”
Brencans has a versatile personality as well as a versatile game.
“I’m really universal,” he said. “I can play face-up, I can post up, rebound well, run the floor well. Every game will show something different from me. I will do my best every game to try to find the best spot to help the team win.”