SF State Aussie goes up and over to chase his dream

SF State Gators forward Damien Rance (44) protects the ball as he looks to pass in a game against the Holy Names Hawks at The Swamp Gymnasium Tuesday, Nov. 24. (David Henry / Xpress)
SF State Gators forward Damien Rance (44) shoots a free throw in a game against the Holy Names Hawks at The Swamp Gymnasium Tuesday, Nov. 24. (David Henry/Xpress)

SF State Gators forward Damien Rance (44) shoots a free throw in a game against the Holy Names Hawks at The Swamp Gymnasium Tuesday, Nov. 24. (David Henry/Xpress)

Swapping the crocodiles of Australia for the Gators of SF State has proven to be a good decision for standout forward Damien Rance.

The Gators are undefeated through their first five games, but perhaps more important for the freshman economics major is the realization of a basketball dream that began in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia.

“I started playing when I was 7,” Rance said. “I was playing Australian football as well, and I kind of had to decide on which one I really wanted to pursue. I chose basketball just because I fell in love with it.”

Rance left Melbourne and traveled to the U.S. by himself after his sophomore year of high school. Before he committed to playing for SF State, Rance played his last two years of high school basketball at Pope John XXIII Regional High School in New Jersey.

According to head men’s basketball coach Paul Trevor, after high school, lower-level Division I teams on the East Coast were recruiting Rance, but he chose to commit to SF State.

“We were in pretty hard on him, so that was the major reason why we were lucky to get a guy at his caliber,” Trevor said.

A large part of Rance’s commitment to SF State was because of his longstanding relationship with the Gators third-year assistant coach Vince Inglima. The two met when Rance was 13 and Inglima was playing professional basketball in Australia.

“I had a prior relationship with coach Inglima, so he was out in Australia playing professional basketball and he coached me at some point,” Rance said. “We kept in contact, and I came out to San Francisco for a visit.”

According to Inglima, it’s a story that a lot of the athletic community doesn’t know about.

“I coached at a sports academy that he attended,” Inglima said. “I was able to watch his development for three years or so, and we stayed connected over the years. He went out to New Jersey, and we stayed connected through social media. It ended up working pretty well, and we were able to get him out here, and he enjoys SF State and the City.”

Inglima noted from his first impression of Rance that he had a lot of potential.

“Back when he was 13, he had great footwork and was very disciplined,” Inglima said. “His understanding of the game, even at a young age, was really high.”

Rance has already made significant contributions for the undefeated Gators through the first four games of the season, according to Trevor and Inglima. The player is averaging seven points per game in 15.5 minutes of playing time, while shooting 61.1 percent.

“He has done a good job of adjusting to the speed of the game, but he has done a better job of being a good teammate,” Trevor said. “He and his teammates get along very well, and they really enjoy him.”

SF State Gators forward Damien Rance (44) protects the ball as he looks to pass in a game against the Holy Names Hawks at The Swamp Gymnasium Tuesday, Nov. 24. (David Henry / Xpress)

SF State Gators forward Damien Rance (44) protects the ball as he looks to pass in a game against the Holy Names Hawks at The Swamp Gymnasium Tuesday, Nov. 24. (David Henry / Xpress)

Rance said his teammates welcomed him with open arms, and now they are like family to him.

”It’s been awesome,” Rance said. “My teammates are a great bunch of guys. They’re like brothers to me.”

Rance also said the close relationship with his teammates sparks friendly jokes.

“All the time, they’re always trying to put on the accent and all that stuff, but I give it back to them,” he said. “It’s always cool and fun with them. It’s a close group.”

As for his future plans for basketball, Rance said he hopes to continue playing after SF State.

“I’m trying to play professionally, hopefully in Europe,” Rance said.