Brandon Ashley steps into the UPB gym, and his energy radiates across the court. If Brandon is there, you feel it with each step, each dribble, each bounce. He works hard, talks loud, and plays big. Any trainer around him is probably smiling, laughing, chatting. But, make no mistake, Ashley, commonly called “Bash” by those who know him, wasn't always brimming with positivity.
“I used to be a really negative person,” Ashley said. “I just saw it wasn’t doing anything for me. It wasn’t helping me grow or move forward in my life.”
Today, Ashley plays for a dynamic NBA G-League team in the G-League Ignite, which is currently in Orlando to play in a showcase. The roster is loaded with up-and-coming youngsters and seasoned veterans from Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga to Reggie Hearn and Jarrett Jack. While the former four-star recruit at Bishop O’Dowd or Arizona Wildcat star used to struggle with positive self-talk, Ashley oozes confidence on the phone.
“I’ve noticed just such a huge difference over the past couple of years and accepting things as they come and just rolling with the punches,” Ashley said. “It just made my life so much better. It made my life so much more enjoyable.”
But moving from a negative mindset to one of positivity is no easy task, as anyone whose made mindfulness or mental health a priority, knows. Then, how did Ashley make the transition, you might ask?
I asked him how he stays positive when things don’t go his way and he said the following;
“It really just comes down to how much you believe in yourself. If you have that confidence in yourself, regardless of how things have gone so far, you’re going to continue to try to push forward and make that dream happen. Whether I’m in Summer League or in New Zealand… It's an opportunity to be seen and prove my worth. There are eyes all over the world. If you put in the work and genuinely believe in yourself, and do all the right things, then your opportunity will definitely come.”
Make no mistake, Ashley’s time with the league’s future has allowed him to look at his own career through a microscope. He is looking forward to playing for a diverse team right in his backyard, and believes Ignite is the place to further his career now.
“I feel like with all the eyes that are on the young talent, it gives me a chance to also be seen,” Ashley said. “It gives me an opportunity to mentor some of these guys and steer them away from the same mistakes I made, and just really set them up for success.”
Ashley is able to go on about the unique set-up of the Ignite program. Even though the team may not have been designed for “him,” he views the development there as fully centered around giving players the best chance at the NBA. The staff with Ignite and the ins-and-outs of the game there aren’t centered around one coach’s system, but assisting players in thriving at the NBA level. Due to COVID-19, Ashley says there haven’t been lots of opportunities to play five on five, but that doesn’t mean his time with Ignite was a waste.
He’s learned about mentorship from Reggie Hearn’s coaching and teaching, and about humility in watching how these younger players are still grounded despite all the obstacles they have in front of them. Above all, Ashley’s loved being around his family and friends from childhood, and even grown off-the-court.
He’s taken up photography in his free time, and joined a book club with a splattering of friends he’s made over the years. The group reads books by authors of color, and when asked about Ashley’s favorite read so far, he didn’t hesitate before saying The Sun Does Shine, which I can confirm is a phenomenal read. The book is by Anthony Ray Hinton, an innocent man, who stayed positive despite being wrongfully imprisoned on death row for 28 years.
And so, just as everything in Ashley’s basketball journey seems to be so far, Hinton’s experience shaped Ashley’s outlook on life going forward.
“That one was really eye-opening for me and helped change my perspective on some things, take some things less for granted, be more appreciative of the things I do have,” Ashley said.
With this mindset, it’s clear Ashley’s journey is just beginning.
Behind the creation of UPBYCF lies years of activism for both Turners and a sustained interest in bettering communities in The Bay Area. They know the statistics that six times as many low-income students drop youth sports when compared to those from high-income families because of access (Aspen Institute Project Play Initiative). They also know firsthand the power sports has to build character because “a survey of 400 female corporate executives found 94% played a sport and that 61% say sports contributed to their career success (EY Women Athletes Business Network/espnW, 2014). The launch of UPBYCF is bounded in these statistics and in past experiences both Turners have had with nonprofits such as The Boys and Girls Club, Big Homie Project, and Play MakeHers. Yearly clinics at UPB have focused on women’s empowerment, and tackled issues like access to sports, and hunger.