Wednesday, May 27, 2009

They said it couldn't be done, but teen with one arm receives Division I basketball scholarship

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

There's a long line of basketball coaches who didn't think Kevin Laue (pictured) could play for a Division I college. They're all wrong.

Laue, a 6-foot-11 center from Pleasanton who was born without a left forearm, has accepted a full scholarship to play for Manhattan College. He is believed to be the first disabled person ever to receive a Division I basketball scholarship.

"It's a great situation for me, a great business school and a huge stage in New York City," Laue said.

He said he has heard from many disabled people or their parents from around the world since his basketball exploits started becoming publicized a few years ago. "I heard from about 80 in the last year," he said. "It's unbelievable. I was just blessed."

Laue - it rhymes with wow - was a shot-blocking inspiration when he played for Amador Valley-Pleasanton. He decided to spend a postgraduate year at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia after he didn't get any Division I offers out of high school. It didn't help his chances that he broke his leg midway through his senior season.

During Fletcher Arritt's 39 years as Fork Union coach, more than 150 of his players have gone to Division I schools. Laue has been one of his favorite players, just as he was for Rob Collins at Amador Valley.

"The minute I saw him play last spring, I knew he was a Division I player," Arritt told The Chronicle on Tuesday. "I also knew people (college coaches) would be intimidated by the fact he has only one hand."

Laue handles the ball and shoots so smoothly, Arritt said, that some opposing players didn't realize his handicap until after the game. "Probably the hardest thing he has to do is tie his shoes," Arritt said. "If you can tie your shoes with one hand, you can do just about anything.

"He taps rebounds and keeps the ball alive, or he pulls the ball down with his big right arm. He throws a baseball pass. You've got to watch him closely to see any flaw in his game. Shoot, he runs like a gazelle. If he had two hands, he wouldn't be at Fork Union. He'd be at Kentucky or North Carolina."

The year at the military school was, Laue said, "the best decision I've ever made but it was very hard - getting up at 5:30 or 6 a.m. every day, playing basketball six days a week. It's mentally and physically daunting, but for the ones who make it through, your whole perspective changes."

Laue was born with his left arm wedged between the umbilical cord and his neck. It kept circulation to his brain from being cut off, but it stopped the flow of blood to his arm.

On offense, Laue waves the ball like a water-polo player and shoots hook shots and mid-range jumpers. On defense, he helps keep contact with the man he's guarding by sticking the nub of his left arm in the player's back. He is an excellent shot blocker.

He was introduced to Arritt by Frank Martin, who had coached Laue in AAU ball. Martin played at Fork Union in the early 1980s alongside former N.C. State center - and 1986 first-round draft pick by the Warriors - Chris Washburn.

In a game against Brewster Academy, Laue outscored Kansas signee Thomas Robinson 11-4, while adding five rebounds and five blocks in 25 minutes.

Many players go to Fork Union to try to boost subpar grades. Laue, who graduated from high school with a 3.5 GPA, was trying to impress Ivy League coaches. The Ivies weren't interested, but other Division I coaches were - including Manhattan's Barry Rohrssen.

"Being a baseball fan, Jim Abbott left a great impression on me," Rohrssen told the New York Times, referring to the former big-league pitcher who was born without a right hand. "Some of the things he did inspired a lot of people with similar problems and just people as a whole.

"I think with a guy like Kevin, playing at Manhattan and being in New York City, presents an opportunity that can be rewarding for Kevin and also have a ripple effect for everyone involved."

Laue, who met President Bush last year, said he'd like to challenge President Obama to a game of one-on-one. "I'll go anywhere he wants to play," he said, "but the Secret Service will have to come pick me up."