Rangers' Jeanpierre believes

Fans in the stands at Bremer Center Gym couldn’t take their eyes off hustling Angelo Jeanpierre.

Jeanpierre wasn’t nailing shots from beyond the 3-point line, playing above the rim or leading killer fastbreaks.

Jeanpierre’s cobra-like hands were ripping the ball out of opponents hands, slapping away passes and scooping up loose balls like a runaway vacuum cleaner.

Olympic College athletic director Barry Janusch said, in nine years of coaching men’s basketball in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges, he’s never seen a player get more out of his ability than Jeanpierre.

“No one. Ever,” Janusch said. “He’s got great instincts, but the deal is he’s not afraid to stick his nose in things. He just works so dang hard. If he can’t get it, he’ll dive and trip and do whatever he has to do. He’s just a little squirt and he’s in there battling with the big guys. He’s fun to watch.”

The biggest 5-foot-10 player in the NWAACC slips inside the giants for rebounds he has no business getting. He had 10 rebounds, seven at the offensive end, seven points and three steals in the Rangers’ 81-75 comeback win over Everett on Wednesday, Feb. 27.

Jeanpierre wasn’t flawless. He missed six of seven free throws, and sometimes he tried to do too much, but nobody tried harder.

“Even in the first half when we were running around like a chicken with our heads cut off, we still brought a lot of energy,” Jeanpierre said.

Energy’s the name of Jeanpierre’s game.

Jeanpierre’s gone from a walk-on who was playing little, if at all, at the start of the season to become an integral part of an underdog OC team that’s still in the running for an NWAACC Tournament berth going into its final game of the regular-season tonight at Edmonds Community College.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Jeanpierre said. “And I can’t wait. I’m excited.”

Don’t tell Jeanpierre the Rangers can’t win. Nobody believes in his team, or himself, more than Jeanpierre.

Two years ago, doctors told him he’d never play basketball again. An ankle injury started bothering him during the summer between his junior and senior years at Bremerton High. The ankle, doctors discovered, had been fractured seven years earlier, when he was a pudgy Warren Avenue pee wee guard making behind-the-back bounce passes from halfcourt at the tiny, tile-floored Naval Avenue gym.

Jeanpierre opted for corrective surgery, which required re-breaking the ankle and inserting a plate and a pin.

That meant no football, where he had been a starting linebacker/fullback since his sophomore year. He hoped to be ready for basketball, but that never happened either. By the time baseball season rolled around, he was still limping, but he played anyway. It wasn’t the senior year he’d envisioned.

“I tried to fight off the pain and work through it,” he said, “but it never got better.”

As Jeanpierre tells the story, God finally intervened during the middle of his freshman year.

“One day a bunch of people prayed for my foot,” said Jeanpierre, who is involved with Young Life, a Christian program. “The next day it felt like there was nothing wrong. I give all the glory of my ankle getting better to God. Now it feels like I’m walking on clouds. It feels great.”

Pain-free or not, many still doubted whether Jeanpierre had what it took to play basketball at the community-college level. The left-hander was always a clever player with good instincts, but he lacked an outside shot and wasn’t especially fast.

“People said I was too short and too slow,” said Jeanpierre. “What’s the point in not trying. During my freshman year, I met Fred (Grupe) at the gym and started practicing with him. I figured if I played hard, I’d make the team. I didn’t care about playing. I just wanted to make the team.”

OC’s Janusch, the men’s coach at the time, knew the 6-foot-5 Grupe would emerge as a legitimate player.

Grupe has, leading the NWAACC in rebounding (11.4 rpg.) and averaging 21 ppg. Janusch wasn’t so sure about Jeanpierre, who’d been cut as a freshman in junior high because of his lack of foot speed.

“He said he just wanted a chance, just an opportunity,” Janusch said. “How are you going to say ‘no’ to a guy who works that hard? He played just as hard as he does now in open gym, diving for loose balls and fouling guys. Guys were going, “Who is this guy?’”

Reece Gliko, the new coach, immediately took a liking to Jeanpierre’s hard-nosed work ethic.

And Jeanpierre quickly embraced Gliko’s demanding coaching philosophy, on and off the court.

“It’s so much more than a basketball team,” Jeanpierre said. “It’s like a family ... We’re up at 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning, on the track, in the gym, lifting, jumping rope. Coach puts us through a lot of mental stuff. My mind’s so much stronger than I ever thought it could be.

“I’ve grown as a person 10 times more than I ever did before. The discipline, just believing in yourself and your teammates, pushing yourself every day hard, not quitting ... I’d be happy being a waterboy.” But he’s become more than that.

“What he adds to our team and has added to our vision overall is hard to put into words,” Gliko said. “If you haven’t been to a game and seen him play, you wouldn’t understand what he gives us.”

Grupe, a soft-speaking Texan, calls Angelo “our practice warrior.” Now, he’s contributing regularly off the bench. He played 24 minutes against Everett.

He had a season-high 13 rebounds in a win over Peninsula.

“I’m just coming in focused, just filling my role,” he said. “I don’t try to create. I tell myself, ‘Don’t do stuff that’s not necessary. Just be solid.’”

Jeanpierre’s street style still creeps into his play. Occasionally, he’ll leave his feet, spin and whip a no-look pass that lands in the bleachers.

Jeanpierre, who grew up playing with Curtis Allen, his cousin and now a starting guard for the University of Washington Huskies, said, “That’s how I learned to play. I was never taught fundamentals very well.”

Gliko said, “The thing he needed most improvement on was getting his emotions under control on the court.

You look at where he was at the beginning of the year and he’s our most improved player. You can’t look inside, but believe me, he’s got the heart of a lion. He’s a champion.”

Jeanpierre, who carries a 3.6 GPA and is on schedule to earn his associate of arts degree this spring, wants to study child psychology at Seattle Pacific University, but he’s torn about leaving Olympic. He’s got another year of basketball eligibility.

“I like our team so much,” he said. “I get so much out of this program.”

He’s considered walking on at Seattle Pacific, a nationally-ranked NCAA Division II program.

“I know if I walked on and pushed myself every day, I believe I would make it,” Jeanpierre said. “It’s a challenge and I definitely like challenges.”

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