By Joshua Parrott, Sports Writer
Rance Bland isn’t typical. But Bland isn’t bland at all. Just look at his basketball shoes.
Written on the three white stripes of each of his black adidas basketball shoes are three numbers: 3, 2 and 3. The numbers are a visual reminder of his favorite Bible verse: Coloss-ians 3:23.
His shoes show his trust in his everyday walk with the Lord.
“The No. 1 thing without question is to give God all the glory,” said Bland, junior management major from Lubbock. “He has given me the grace to stick with basketball this long.”
Bland, who has three seasons of eligibility because he wasn’t officially on the team as a freshman and earned redshirt status as a sophomore due to an injury, is gracious of his opportunities at ACU, even though he never thought he would end up a Wildcat in the Big County.
“When I came to Abilene during my junior year of high school, I told myself I would never end up here,” Bland said. “I went on a couple of recruiting trips, but I wanted to go somewhere with a great school environment. The whole time I was here I was thinking I would go somewhere big like Duke.”
Bland averaged 11 points, six rebounds and four assists as a high school junior at Lubbock’s Trinity Christian and followed that up with a solid senior campaign, averaging 12 points and seven rebounds. But all the scouts from the bigger schools stopped showing interest. When it came time to choose a college, Bland’s only offers were from Division III and NAIA schools.
Bland said his senior year of high school served a purpose.
“God used that year to humble me,” Bland said. “I was expecting to follow my junior year with a big senior year, but I didn’t have a great season. ”
Receiving all-tournament team honors after leading his team to a state semifinal appearance as a senior, Bland ended up at ACU, where he walked on as a true freshman in 2000. After contributing in practices without officially being on the roster, Bland’s work ethic finally paid off when his hard work gave him a chance to contribute as a sophomore, but then the injury bug stung him.
Over the next few months, Bland struggled with two serious foot injuries, including a partial fracture of his left foot in 2001 and a complete fracture of the same foot following Christmas break that year.
Nick Tapie, junior English major from Orlando, Fla., knows Bland doesn’t run away from the tough issues; he charges them head-on.
“He goes to the hard place and doesn’t take the easy way out,” Tapie said. “He’s self-disciplined and mindful of the Lord. He’s different because he’s using basketball as an opportunity to serve others.”
Bland said the experience of dealing with injuries gave him a new view on life.
“I didn’t understand it because I had worked so hard,” Bland said. “But so much good came out of that. It put things in a lot better perspective. It showed me there’s a lot more in life than just basketball.”
As a matter of fact, Bland’s teammates think their well-being ranks ahead of his own personal achievements.
“He’s an outstanding Christian,” junior guard Rodney Lee said. “That guy’s for real. He invites everyone to church. He literally cares about everybody.”
Junior forward Tucker Pierson said he truly appreciates Bland for his persistence in rebounding from his foot injuries.
“He went through the whole preseason and then hurt his foot,” Pierson said. “Then he comes back to practice and hurts his foot two days later. Most people would have been done. I’m just amazed that he puts in that hard work even though he’s not getting into games. He’s giving it his all.”
Bland realizes his contribution isn’t to necessarily to fill up the stat sheet.
“I feel like basketball has always been a tool in my hands to spread [God’s] glory,” said Bland, who regularly prays for teammates after practice in front of each locker. “I believe that is why He put me on this team. I can honestly say that even if I never play another minute, just being around these guys has given me an opportunity to let my light shine.”
The only thing that could challenge Bland’s spirit on the court could be his effort in the classroom, where he has a perfect 4.0 GPA.
“I try to go out and give my best everyday and give what I can to the team,” Bland said. “I’m not completely sure, but I’m going to be here as long as God has me.”