In recent years, the Bradley basketball program has established a legacy of recruiting European stars. Now, after a season on the sidelines due to injury, redshirt freshman Rienk Mast hopes to continue that tradition.
Growing up in the Netherlands, basketball wasn’t a family tradition for Mast. Instead, he and his family played korfball, a game that shares similarities with both basketball and netball. However, he knew from a young age that basketball was his true calling.
“Since I was seven, I always said I wanted to play basketball,” Mast said. “You couldn’t get on a team [until] you were eight … Right on my eighth birthday, the next day I was at my first basketball practice.”
Making the transition from korfball to another ball and net sport was easy for Mast at a young age. While picking basketball was a no-brainer for him, it left some of his family members confused.
“[Why I moved on to basketball] is still a question my dad always asks me,” Mast said. “Nobody else played it, so how did I end up wanting to play it?”
Basketball started to become a serious part of Mast’s life when he entered high school. While academics and athletics tend to be separate for most European student-athletes, Mast attended TopSport TalentSchool in his hometown of Groningen. There, his class schedule worked around his club’s practices.
Mast started to make a name for himself and was soon called on to try out for the youth national team and made the cut. At the U16 level, his team took the silver medal in the 2017 International Basketball Federation European Division B championships. A year later, he captained his team to a gold medal at the U18 level.
Coming to the United States to play basketball was always in Mast’s plan. Thanks to his success in Europe, Mast was recruited by many different colleges. While athletics have always been his main focus, he believed Bradley offered him the academic challenges to succeed in his physics major.
“Next to basketball, I like to also be challenged in education,” Mast said. “I wanted to [go to] a university that had a good education in my major.”
The 19-year-old already has a list of impressive accolades on the court. Mast was named the Dutch Basketball League’s Youth Player of the Year and Most Improved Player of the Year playing for his hometown club Donar in 2019.
It was with Donar that Mast ran into injury problems, tearing his ACL early in 2019. His subsequent surgery and rehab benched him for the Braves’ repeat tournament title season last year. Despite being on the team for its championship run, Mast felt disconnected from the process.
“It’s extremely tough not being able to do anything,” Mast said. “You can still do a lot of things — of course in a limited role — but you can’t really show what you mean. You’re a part of the team, but you don’t really feel a part of the team … I don’t like winning without doing anything.”
Mast was cleared for competition back in June, but he also recognizes that there is still room for him to improve and recover.
“Ever since [June], I’ve been trying to get back into my original shape,” Mast said. “After a whole year of sitting out with this kind of injury, it’s not going to be the same right away.”
The 6-foot-9-inch, 240-pound star is clearly a force to be reckoned with, and head coach Brian Wardle is excited to finally get to use Mast to round out his lineup.
“He’s a unique … skilled big that you just don’t see many of,” Wardle said. “He’s a really good passer. I think with his basketball IQ … and feel, he gives us another weapon.”
Looking ahead to the upcoming season, while there is still work to be done, the goal is clear for Mast and the rest of the Braves.
“We still [have] a lot of work to do,” Mast said. “I think we got all the pieces we need to be really, really good … The goal is first and foremost [to] win a third championship.”