He has a unique name, but not really a household one – unless you’re a Wyoming fan. Fennis Dembo was Wyoming basketball in the 1980s. Dembo was responsible for the Cowboys’ improbable NCAA tournament run in 1987, guiding them to the Sweet 16. His outgoing personality made him a fan favorite in Wyoming, while hated by opponents. Although he had a brief cup of coffee in the NBA after being drafted by the Detroit Pistons, he will always be Wyoming’s favorite.
Fennis Dembo’s road to Wyoming
Fennis Dembo played his high school basketball in San Antonio. As fate would have it, Wyoming’s then-coach Jim Brandenburg had previously been a head coach in San Antonio. He had already done his homework on the 6-foot-5, 215-pound small forward. Brandenburg was one of the earliest, if not the first, to discover that Dembo had big-time Division 1 talent.
Dembo made the trip to Wyoming and fell in love right away. Dembo saw snow for the first time when he visiting Laramie, Wyoming. According to 7220Sports.com, Dembo wanted out of Texas and was already making himself comfortable at home, making snow angels during his trip.
“Where am I at?” he laughed when talking about that first visit. “Seriously, I know it sounds corny and not good, but, where am I at?”
Dembo was a rock star at Wyoming. During the 1987 NCAA Tournament, he guided his team to the Sweet 16 where the Cowboys were ousted by UNLV. Dembo was the leading scorer in the tourney, averaging nearly 28 points per game. He left Wyoming as the all-time leading scorer and rebounder. He finished his career with 2,311 points.
Dembo’s NBA career was short-lived
Fennis Dembo was selected in the second round by the Detroit Pistons in the 1988 NBA draft. He said he wasn’t “mentally prepared” for life in the NBA. He also felt the Pistons were a bad fit for him. “Their core was already settled,” he told 7220Sports.com. Turns out, I had no idea what type of attitude and work ethic it took to be a part of that team. I made some mistakes. I have some regrets. There’s things I would do differently. I learned a lot.”
He admitted he could have worked harder. “I wish I had put the time into the game like I needed to,” Dembo said in a 2009 ESPN article. “I wish I had worked harder. It came too easy to me. I remember Coach Brandenburg saying that to me. We were working on drills and he said, ‘Just because a lot of these drills come easy to you, doesn’t mean you don’t have to work on them.’ But I didn’t understand that. I didn’t understand, yeah, I could shoot the ball but that didn’t make me a great shooter; yeah, I could dribble the ball but that didn’t make me a great ballhandler.”
Dembo played just 31 games in the NBA. He was gone after one season. It just wasn’t for him and he admitted he just didn’t have that drive.”By the time I saw guys and realized you had to work in the summer, you had to work out on your own and really just work on your game, the NBA had done passed me by,” Dembo told ESPN.
Wyoming remained Dembo’s first choice
Wyoming’s then-coach Jim Brandenburg said opposing fans looked at Fennis Dembo as a showboat. Brandenburg said he was anything but that. “From the outside you’d think this kid was just a hot dog,” Brandenburg said to ESPN. “He was anything but. That was just his personality. He was a live wire. I’m not sure I’ve ever met anybody in all my time in college basketball and I mean this — not (Bobby) Knight, no one — that walked into a room and drew every eye and all the attention to him like Fennis did. He brightened every room he ever walked into.”
Brandenburg was fortunate to land Dembo when he did. He wasn’t heavily recruited at first, but as time went on schools such as Kentucky and Louisville came knocking on the door. Dembo never considered them. He committed to Wyoming and wasn’t changing his mind. He knows he didn’t pick the sexy school, but he wasn’t second-guessing his choice.
“No. Not once,” Dembo said to 7220Sports.com. “Those schools came in late because they missed on other players. I felt like Wyoming was my fit. I never made the glamorous choice. Wyoming wasn’t the glamorous choice, but my life has been so blessed that I’ve always made the right choice.”