A single sound that no basketball player wants to hear in his career.
Hans Brase has heard that sound twice. He’s also felt it.
“I remember it vividly,” Brase said.
Oct. 27, 2015. The first pop.
It was a couple of weeks into fall practice of 2015 during his senior year at Princeton, and he was practicing some basic drills. Brase drove the line, then stopped near the basket.
He tried pivoting his foot back, but his body continued to move forward, causing his right knee to move two ways and pop. He felt pain instantly as he fell to the floor, but quickly got up from the ground and walked it off.
For a player that hasn’t had any major injuries, Brase didn’t think ACL instantly, but instead thought he could tape it up.
“I heard a pop, but I walked off on my own, so I thought it couldn’t be that bad,” Brase said. “Maybe a couple weeks.”
He went to the doctor the next day, who told him what no athlete wants to hear — a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which signifies a rehab process of eight to 12 months. Even then, he may not return as the same player for his senior season.
Brase took a year off from basketball and school because the Ivy League doesn’t allow standard redshirts. To maintain his last year of eligibility, he had to take a break. He returned for the 2016-17 season ready to show he was ready to make an impact again.
Then, Nov. 29, 2016. The second pop.
Brase and the Princeton basketball team were at Virginia Commonwealth University for its fifth game of the season. It was getting closer to the end of the first half and Brase was getting a pass from a teammate.
As the ball was coming to Brase, a VCU defender stole the ball. Brase stopped quickly to try and stop the fast break when his shoes stuck to the newly finished floor. As he tried to get back on defense, his knee gave out and he heard the pop.
Finding his path
Hans was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, but after about two weeks in the United States, he and his family moved to Germany. His parents were from Germany and lived there for most of their lives.
His mother, Bertina, and his father, Joe, were born and raised in Germany. Hans’ family are the only members of both his mom’s and dad’s families that aren’t currently living in Germany.
“I’m always excited to go back to Germany because I get to see my extended family,” Hans said. “It’s also nice to see where I grew up and continue to learn more about my heritage and culture.”
After two years overseas, his family decided to move back, but jumped from place to place at the beginning. They lived in Kentucky for a couple of years, then lived outside of Detroit for another couple of years.
“All of my friends thought one of my parents was in the military because we moved so much,” Hans said. “It wasn’t actually that though. It was my dad’s work.”
Hans’ father is in corporate finance and had to travel for his job when Hans was growing up.
The Brase family finally decided Clover, South Carolina, would be the final destination. Growing up in Michigan, Hans didn’t touch a basketball, but rather picked up a hockey stick. He also followed the footsteps of his mother, who was a swimmer when she was younger.
In Michigan, hockey is a religion, but once he moved south, the sport of hockey vanished quickly. That’s when he gravitated toward basketball.
“I was tall and athletic and had good footwork from playing soccer,” Hans said. “I thought, ‘Why not give it a try?’”
Hans played a variety of sports each summer in middle school, but once he played basketball in high school, he realized the potential of playing at a college in the future.
He played three seasons at Gaston Day School in Gastonia, North Carolina, before he made a big decision that would pay off for his future plans in college.
The formative years
After three years at high school, Hans decided to attend a boarding school called The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.
The decision to go there was easy because his older brother, Janpeter Brase, and sister, Marie-Luise Brase, nicknamed Lulu, went there for academics and basketball, so he knew the program was excellent. He also wanted to get away from the house since he was the only child left.
“I was so used to having people be in our house constantly,” Bertina said. “Once Hans left for boarding school, it was an eye-opening experience because no one was there.”
When he went to The Hill School, he reclassified as a junior. Since he had an early birthday in September, if he were to play only four years, he would have graduated at 17 years old. Due to the age factor and how common it was to reclassify at The Hill School, Hans decided to play five seasons in his high school career.
That extra year, especially at The Hill School, helped build Hans’ confidence, and also made his name known throughout the East Coast.
Once he started his reclassified junior year, colleges and universities connected with The Hill School coach as well as the Hans family. Hans wasn’t sought after by big-name college programs, but a Division I school was in his future. He had aspirations beyond that, too, in national basketball for Germany.
The three biggest schools on Hans’ radar were the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and Davidson. After being at The Hill School for two years, he was surrounded by the brotherly love of Philadelphia, so Penn — located in Philadelphia — and Princeton — just an hour away — were always ranked higher than the hometown school of Davidson in North Carolina.
He also wanted the opportunity to learn from the best, so playing in the Ivy League would allow him to be challenged academically in the classroom and physically on the court.
“I decided to go to Princeton because of my connection with the coach at Princeton, the family-type atmosphere with the team as well as the rich history in basketball that they have there,” Hans said. “Combine that with the number one school in the country, it’s kind of hard to turn that down.”
He was going to be a Tiger.
Once a Tiger, always a Tiger
Hans played minimally in his first season with the Tigers because they already had one dominant post player. HIs name was Ian Hummer, one of the all-time greats at Princeton and one of Hans’ mentors.
Hans described Hummer as a “freak athlete.” After all, he was two-time unanimous first-team All-Ivy League selection and the Ivy League Player of the Year his senior year.
Hans learned the ropes from Hummer and played in 18 games, averaging 5.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game during that first campaign.
After his freshman year, Hans became the inside man and a dominant presence in the paint for the next couple of seasons. He averaged 11.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game his sophomore season and 11.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game his junior year. His leadership off the court was one of the biggest aspects that the Princeton basketball staff appreciated from him.
He also had some fun. Hans’ teammate, Mike LeBlanc, recalled a handful of memories with Hans as a roommate during the summers, specifically at 6 a.m. every day.
They drove together to go work out every morning in Hans’ car, but his radio was broken. The only thing that worked was his CD player.
“He had a CD that we found underneath the seat,” LeBlanc said. “We had no idea what the CD was, so we put it in one day and it was the most unique songs we’ve ever heard. We listened to it every day after that and ended up knowing every word at the end of the summer.”
The CD had three songs: Time of Your Life by Green Day, Breakaway by Kelly Clarkson and Tongue Tied by Grouplove. Now when they hear those songs, they send each other Snapchats, singing.
Recovery and redemption
LeBlanc thought Hans was banged up after hearing the first pop in practice, but after he walked off on his own, LeBlanc thought Hans was fine. Then he heard that the team would be losing its captain to an ACL tear.
“Everyone on the team called him Papa Hans because he was older than all of us,” LeBlanc said. “You hate to see a guy like him go down with an injury because he doesn’t deserve that to happen to him.”
Hans knew he would be back to play after that first tear. Bertina remembered the phone call from Hans telling them he had torn his ACL, but had all the steps he needed to take to get back on the court.
His recovery was complicated by the Ivy League’s lack of a redshirt season. Hans had to decide whether to stay on the team, injured, and lose a year of eligibility or leave the team to keep that year.
“I decided dropping school would be the best option for me, so I could play my senior year,” Hans said. “It was difficult being away from the team and such, but I knew it was the best choice.”
After making the long recovery back to 100 percent, Hans was cleared to practice fully at the end of summer 2016. His first few games were shaky because he hadn’t played a game of basketball in about a year.
The VCU game, Hans admitted, was the first time that season he felt he had his groove back and was starting to get on a roll before the second pop.
LeBlanc remembered seeing Hans go down on the court and knew it wasn’t good, especially after he grabbed his right knee, the same one he tore before.
After the second one, though, Bertina wanted to talk it through with Hans and see if he wanted to proceed with the rehab. Once the doctor said it was just the ACL, Hans knew he was coming back for a fifth and final season.
“There was no question that I would be coming back,” Hans said. “There was no quitting in my mind. I was going to be back for the fall of 2017.”
The problem was that he needed a final destination to his college basketball journey. Princeton couldn’t keep him for another year, so Hans decided to rely on his head coach, Mitch Henderson.
Henderson had not helped with graduate transfers in his time at Princeton, but wanted to help Hans play his final season.
Once Hans was available to recruit, Henderson received many phone calls from different head coaches. He would discuss them with Hans and they worked together to find the right school.
That school became Iowa State.
Hans enjoyed the rich tradition of winning at Iowa State and playing in the Big 12, one of the best conferences in the country. He also understood the ability to reach the NCAA Tournament and wanted to end his final season on a high note.
Anything less would be a disappointment.
His German roots
Hans has dreamed of playing basketball professionally, specifically on the German national team. He’s taken steps to reach that point sooner rather than later by playing in the German program during the summers of his college career.
Every summer, Hans flew to Germany and played with the national players. He first played with the U-20 team in the FIBA European Championships in the summer of 2013. After that summer, he went to the second-tier national team, but his injuries haven’t allowed him to play on the senior national team.
He continued to go back each summer, even while he was injured, to reconnect with the players and build a stronger chemistry for the future.
Hans also enjoys going to Germany during the summer because he’s able to see the culture and family his parents grew up with during their childhood. The most exciting part for him is to see the extended family, which provides a stronger tie to his heritage and culture.
“It’s been so much fun going back each summer to practice with the German team,” Hans said. “It makes me truly proud to be a German.”
His mother, Bertina, couldn’t agree more.
“I’m so proud of him for striving to play on the national team and represent Germany on the basketball court,” she said.
Hans knows that Iowa State can help him reach those goals, while striving to win Big 12 and NCAA championships.
“I think this is a perfect place to wrap up my college basketball career,” Hans said. “I’ve appreciated my time with Princeton, but this season I’m a Cyclone.”