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22 Things to Know About No. 22

Feb 11, 2021

Game 15 Arizona State

He's 6 foot, 11 inches of shot-blocking, ferociously dunking freshman for the Oregon men's basketball team. He's also a self-described nerd who spends solitary nights in dark rooms writing code, and dreams of a career in robotics, potentially with NASA.

And Franck Kepnang also is a native of Cameroon, who hasn't set foot in his home country since before high school. In recognition of his jersey number, here are 22 things to know about the Ducks' up-and-coming post presence:

1. He's coming off his most encouraging performance of the season.

The Ducks headed down to Arizona this week for a road trip that begins Thursday night at ASU, and Kepnang was able to pack some confidence for the trip. In Oregon's win over Washington on Saturday, he played a season-high 15 minutes and scored eight points while blocking two shots and collecting two rebounds.

"I can't remember the last time I felt that much excitement, that much love for the game," he said.

Among Kepnang's contributions offensively were a hook shot, and a jumper in the lane that banked in. Each shot seemed to have a reasonable degree of difficulty — but not to Kepnang. And that stemmed from all the work he puts in at practice.

"I was hardly thinking about them, to be honest," he said. "It was muscle memory. After doing them countless times, it becomes part of you."

2. He didn't play organized basketball until arriving in the United States.

Kepnang grew up in Cameroon's capital of Yaoundé, a bustling city of 2.8 million people. But he only began playing basketball as a pre-teen, on a single hoop at one end of a tennis court. The pavement was rough and cracked, and games were limited to pickup situations with other kids from his neighborhood.

3. As a boy, he loved dismantling toys as much as playing with them.

From an early age, Kepnang was fascinated with technology. He recalls receiving a radio-controlled car as a boy, spending one day playing with it and the next day tearing it apart to see how the electronics worked.

Eventually he re-wired it, reversing the controls so that right became left, forward became backward.

"I remember it vividly," he recalled with glee. "I was having a blast. I was so happy with myself."

4. He was raised by a single mother who emphasized education.

Kepnang grew up in a robust family atmosphere, surrounded by aunts and uncles and cousins. But at home his mother, Hortense Tchuisseu, was in charge.

"Sports was never an option, until a coach literally found me and introduced me," Kepnang said. "It was always school — she wanted to make sure I got my work done."

Whatever Kepnang showed interest in, she encouraged. Even when he tore apart his electronic toys, Hortense didn't want to stifle his curiosity.

"She never said, no, you have to do this, or become that," he said. "She let me do what I was interested in."

5. But she deserves some credit for his athleticism, as well.

When she was in her twenties, Hortense competed in karate throughout the African continent. Pregnant with Franck, she transitioned into the professional world, and a career in logistics.

But rest assured, Kepnang didn't talk back much to mom when he was a kid.

6. His love of basketball blossomed in Massachusetts.

Kepnang connected with a host family in the United States and moved here to attend high school and play basketball. He spent his first two years stateside in Massachusetts, which was also his first exposure to organized basketball.

That's when the spark for contributing on the defense end first was lit.

"The beginning was obviously rough," Kepnang said. "But when my timing on blocked shots started to get better, and I could see I would be able stop the other team's offense, I was really taking pride in that."

7. His love of computers, meanwhile, blossomed in Pennsylvania.

Kepnang moved to the Philadelphia area to finish high school and play basketball. A teacher there introduced Kepnang to computer science, and the basics of coding; eventually, he helped build an interface to schedule weekend outings involving faculty and students from his boarding school.

"After that I got into web development," Kepnang said. "I got to work with great people on team projects, building programs. I really like the team aspect of it, and building something new to help others."

8. He prides himself on defense, and doing the dirty work that sets up others for success.

"To be able to protect the basket at all costs, that's my main focus," he said. "If I get an easy shot on the offensive end, good. But the main focus is to rebound the basketball and play hard."

Against Washington on Saturday, one of Kepnang's blocks set up a fastbreak opportunity the other way for Amauri Hardy.

"I felt like I made the basket," Kepnang said. "I was really, really hyped about it."

9. He gets hyped on the basketball court a lot, especially when things are going as well as they were Saturday.

"Watching the game over I could see myself, the joy of the game, the love of the game that came back," Kepnang said. "It makes sense, why you work so hard all day."

That enthusiasm was apparent before Kepnang ever took the court at Oregon. After he first arrived he watched games from the bench, often erupting from his seat to cheer a teammate.

"I'm always celebrating," he said. "When Eugene (Omoruyi) is making a nice move, I can see it coming from practice and I get excited. When my teammates move the ball and I'm on the bench, I'm saying, this is beautiful, I'm excited."

10. Though he reclassified from the recruiting class of 2021 in order to play this year, Kepnang isn't young for his year.

In order to get a better grasp on American English, Kepnang repeated a grade early in high school. So though he technically graduated early after reclassifying and enrolling at Oregon in the middle of this academic year, he's already 19 years old.

11. He finished high school at a program that has produced elite players.

Westtown School in West Chester, Pa., produced Orlando Magic center Mo Bamba and former Arizona guard Brandon Randolph. So though Kepnang still has much to learn about the game, he comes from a program with outstanding credentials.

12. If you see a drone in the skies around Eugene, he might be on the sticks.

The father of a high school friend introduced Kepnang to first-person view (or FPV) drones, and he was hooked.

"It gives you a sense of freedom," he said. "Once you have the goggles on, you don't see anything but what the drone sees. So it's almost like you are the drone.

"You truly feel like your body's moving with it. You're able to go high up in the air, and it really gives you a sense of freedom. You get a perspective you never had before."

13. He sees a basketball career as a means to an end.

Kepnang absolutely desires to play basketball professionally in the NBA. But his dreams don't end there.

"Once you're in the NBA, the second step is to stay in the NBA," he said. "And then doors open. And I can use those doors to do things I really care about — helping people."

14. He watches developments in Elon Musk's SpaceX program with wonder.

One of the ways Kepnang hopes to help people is by charting a course to human existence on other planets.

"The future of life, it's not on Earth," he said. "It's somewhere else."

Long-term, he's interested in robotics, and artificial intelligence. He's exhilarated by programs like SpaceX, and the prospect of technologies like self-landing rockets.

"Anything that can think and move by itself and learn from experience," he said, "that's something I'm really into."

15. Like Thomas Edison, he can find the path to success through failure.

In the event one of those SpaceX rockets fails, Kepnang isn't disappointed — he's inspired. And he takes that attitude onto the basketball court, as well.

"Obviously the first time it failed," he said. "But when it fails, you learn from the failures and ultimately correct it, and it works.

"Let's say I have a bad play, something doesn't go my way. It's always about, next play, next play. I know what I did wrong, and next possession, try to fix it."

16. He's embracing the "bend your knees" philosophy of Oregon head coach Dana Altman.

One of the skills Kepnang has worked hardest to improve is moving his feet on defense, keeping good position and avoiding fouls from leaning into an opponent or reaching for the ball. Of all the numbers on Kepnang's stat line from Saturday's win over Washington, the one he took the most pride in was committing zero fouls in nine first-half minutes.

"That was huge for me," he said. "I'm learning how to play without fouling, so I can be more helpful to my teammates down the stretch."

17. He misses the food from back home, and one dish in particular.

Other than family, what Kepnang misses most from Cameroon is the food. His favorite is Eru, a soup or stew incorporating a plant of the same name.

"I like the diversity of the meals," he said. "There's so many flavors and different types of ingredients that come into play. It doesn't feel routine; there's always something new they can mix in."

18. Even though he's young, he wants to be a leader.

As a freshman on the Oregon men's basketball team, Kepnang is constantly looking to veterans for help and advice. But he wants to be an asset to them, as well.

"As a big man, I think it's important since we see everything (on defense) to be able to coordinate everybody," Kepnang said. "Help our guards out if a screen is coming, or someone is cutting baseline. It's something I really enjoy about the game, being able to direct things."

19. He's a people person.

That instinct to reach out and connect with others extends off the court as well. Though he has done his fair share of computer programming alone, he seems most inspired by group projects, and being a leader in that setting.

"I may not be the smartest, I may not be the most creative, but I can learn about others and find what they're good at, so we can identify tasks that fit them," he said. "Checking on everybody, making sure we're on the same page."

20. After four years on the East Coast, a little rain in Eugene is nothing.

"After being there for so long, the weather here is like a vacation," Kepnang said. "It's not bad at all. I'd be really bundled up if I was on the East Coast. Here I can just get away with a sweater or something."

Rain: It's vacation weather, folks!

21. He has a home away from home in the United States.

Kepnang's host family when he first moved to this country was in New York, and that's where he would spend breaks from school. The patriarch, Mark Carter, became his guardian and coached an age-group team Kepnang played on.

22. He wants to meet you.

Asked what he hopes to accomplish during his time at the University of Oregon, Kepnang rattled off a list of goals, one of them being to build a large network of contacts.

"I like to learn about others and what others do, and how they can help me, what I can learn," he said. "I'm a sponge when it comes to anything. I want to accumulate knowledge, and then wait for the right time to use it.

"Anyone I can cross paths with, I want to learn about them. You never know how that person can affect you and your life."