Column: Stanford’s Brandon Angel dedicates basketball heart to late Torrey Pines teammate
Remarkable lessons learned from Nick Herrmann continue to steer and fuel Angel, a junior for the Cardinal
Sometimes, people speak loudest without saying a word. They do things that reveal who they are at their core, from soul to stern. The most poignant and powerful lessons rarely beg for attention.
For Brandon Angel, that was Nick Herrmann.
When his former teammate at Torrey Pines High School returned from treatment for osteosarcoma, a cancerous tumor in his left leg that caused doctors to remove six inches of his fibula and required 44 staples, Angel found himself stunned.
There was Herrmann, summoning staggering will and a remarkable way after crushing rounds of chemo.
“He would take two or three shots, then sit down when he got tired,” said Angel, a junior forward for Stanford who will host hometown San Diego State on Tuesday. “Then he’d shoot a couple more. There were times he couldn’t get the ball to the basket from 3. He’d work his way out from the basket, 10 footers and mid-range shots.
“Whatever he had in the tank that day, he’d give. It was that way in practice, healthy or sick. He honestly had no business being out there sometimes. I would say 99 percent of people in his situation would be in a room resting. He was going to find a way to be on the court.
“That was his approach to life.”
The friend who lost Herrmann on Aug. 6 after a second bout with cancer at age 20 mines the boundless inspiration to fuel his basketball life.
How could he not? When Angel learned Herrmann would do ballhandling drills in his garage at 3:30 a.m., he started doing his own early-morning workouts.
“If that’s not enough motivation to get you into the gym, I don’t know what is,” said Angel, who started and scored 10 points in the Cardinal’s 88-78 season-opening win Monday against Pacific. “He was always in the gym. He wasn’t settling for anything less than greatness.
“If I got lazy or wanted a night off, I knew he was in the gym. That pushed me.”
Herrmann proved again and again that the combination of work and want could be magical.
He made one of the most memorable shots in the history of the CIF San Diego Section playoffs. In a tie game against powerhouse Cathedral Catholic with a half-second to play, Herrmann roared around a screen to collect a pass and swish the 30-foot winner in the 2021 Open Division championship game.
Even after missing an entire year of school because of his first health fight, Herrmann returned cancer free as a senior. He averaged 18.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals in a 30-1 season that ended in the Southern California title game.
Herrmann’s work wasn’t selfish. It was selfless.
As the end neared, the two talked about basketball, of course. One part of the conversation resonates with Angel.
“He said, my senior year when we lost to Cathedral, one year back from chemo, he thought it was his fault,” Angel said. “He set a goal to get it done (the next season) and he did. The work he put in was unbelievable.”
There was more to say, however.
“I could tell there wasn’t much time left,” Angel said of a conversation before returning to Stanford this summer. “I just told him, thank you. You don’t know how you inspired and pushed me. I’m so grateful for that. It provided a lot of peace of mind that he knew how much I appreciated what he did.
“I said, ‘I love you’ and that was it.”
When Angel had a chance to speak at Herrmann’s memorial, his mind was in knots.
“It was an impossible task in the sense that there was never going to be enough words to convey how I felt about Nick,” he said. “No matter what you do, you don’t know if you’ll do it justice. I started writing it a couple days in advance and kept writing until 3 in the morning the night before.
“It was more time than I’ve spent on any school assignment in my life.”
So Angel uses his legs and lungs to complement the words. Nick taught him to work and work, then work some more. Nick taught him to use every setback as a building block for future success. Nick taught him to love the game and the people around you with all you’ve got.
What’s the incalculable value of that?
“Nick was a model person, a model teammate and everything you wanted in a friend,” Angel said. “His humor was unmatched. He was one of the funniest kids you’d ever meet. He’d do anything to make someone else’s day better, even the nurses when he was in the hospital.
“And he competed like no one I’ve ever played with. He brought a competitive spirit. Even when his energy was down, you could count on him to make a tough play. Down 20, up 20, he’d compete.”
“He would do these crazy dances on the bus, like a stripper,” Angel said with a laugh. “He was a clown.”
And so powerfully more.
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