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One-Armed Kevin Laue an NCAA Basketball Inspiration to All

Jan 31, 2011 – 11:55 AM
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Tim Povtak

Tim Povtak %BloggerTitle%

Kevin Laue

RIVERDALE, N.Y. -- Kevin Laue was 10 years old the day his father died, ending the gut-wrenching torment the two endured -- a cancerous brain tumor that painfully sucked the life from a big, vibrant man and traumatized the son, robbing him of his innocence and a bond he desperately needed.
If only dad could see him now.

A decade later, Laue has grown into one of America's most inspirational stories, overcoming a serious birth defect to become the first and the only NCAA Division I basketball player with one hand.

He's become something the father never thought possible.

"It's a difficult subject now, but I would have loved to have my father here to see me play -- just one game, any game -- so he could see what I've done,'' Laue told FanHouse recently. "All I can do now is hope that he would be proud of me, and what I've become."

Laue, whose left arm ends with a mass of scar tissue just below the elbow, is a sophomore center for Manhattan College, a gifted athlete whose life-long perseverance and dogged determination has taken him to uncharted heights, inspiring thousands of parents and children facing life with a comparable handicap.

"In a way, this (his arm) has been a blessing in disguise. I can't tell you how many times I've had parents come up to me -- or send me a note -- and say that after seeing me, they know their newborn (handicapped) child will be able to do anything,'' Laue said. "That nothing now will stand in their way. That just helps motivate me.''

Laue rarely has needed extra motivation in his life. He was underestimated -- doubted, actually -- from the start, discouraged from even playing the game he has came to love so passionately, nudged into activities where his handicap would not be such a handicap.

Even his father, who used to take him to watch hockey and football games and enrolled him in youth soccer before the brain cancer struck, struggled to believe his handicapped son could ever do anything of this magnitude.

And in the year before he died, their relationship deteriorated. The radiation treatments, the pain medications, the seizures -- his plight -- had overwhelmed and angered him, frightening his youngest son.

Kevin LaueHis parents had divorced a few years before, which was hard enough, but a dying dad made things even tougher for a child trying to understand why he was so different from most everyone else.

He mother took him to counseling, anger-management classes, hoping it would help him reconnect with his father, helping him understand what was happening.

"Let's just say he (his father) might not have expected Kevin to go as far as he has,'' said Jodi Jarnagin, his mother who remarried years ago. "It was a difficult relationship when he was sick. But he would be extremely proud of Kevin today. He'd be one of those off-the-chart dads who are screaming and yelling from the stands. And Kevin would be mortified.''

Kevin today is a 6-11, 230-pound backup center at Manhattan, a lower-level Division I program in the Metro Atlantic Conference, which includes schools like Marist, Niagara, Siena and Iona. The Catholic liberal arts school is located several miles north of actual Manhattan, tucked into a wooded section of the Bronx.

In his two seasons, Laue has played mostly limited minutes. This season, he has played in 18 of the 20 games, starting two of them. While Manhattan has struggled, he, too, has struggled to earn consistent playing time. He is averaging just 5.5 minutes, 1 point and 1.1 rebounds. He had eight rebounds against Vanderbilt last season. He had six points, four rebounds and two blocked shots in just 14 minutes against Binghamton University this season.

While he lacks half a left arm, Laue has developed the rest of his body, inspiring others with an optimistic, can-do- attitude. No one on the team outworks him. His right arm is as long as a tree limb, making him a reliable shot blocker. He can palm the ball easily with his right hand. He uses his nub to stabilize the ball for rebounds and serve as a platform for his jumper. He has a nice shooting touch, and a good feel for the game.

"As a coach, you want to surround yourself with good people, good players, and Kevin is both of those,'' said Manhattan coach Barry Rohrssen, now in his fifth season. "Yes, people were skeptical at first. They thought I was crazy to recruit him, but why not? He's flat-out talented. He's done everything right, so why not take a chance on him?''

Kevin, who grew up in Pleasanton, Calif., didn't play his senior year of high school after breaking his right leg. But he was so determined to earn a basketball scholarship, he crossed the country and played at Virginia's Fort Union Military Academy, a prep school that has produced many Division I players.

It was there that Rohrssen first heard about him. Laue had received college scholarship offers back in California from Division II schools, but he was determined to play at the highest level -- even when some college coaches thought the idea was absurd.

Rohrssen, though, was different. Living in New York, he had been fascinated and inspired by Jim Abbott, the one-armed pitcher who had success with the Yankees in the mid-90s. And when the president of Manhattan College had asked him about Laue, he jumped at the chance to recruit him and to coach him, believing what he lacked physically he could compensate with his work ethic, motivating his teammates.

"There had to be somebody out there who believed in Jim Abbott and gave him a chance to succeed. Same for Kevin,'' Rohrssen said. "As a coach, you're judged by wins and losses, but as a human being, if you can't help someone like Kevin Laue, what are you in the business for?''

With his size and his skills, Laue would be an NBA prospect today if he had two hands. He could pass for a younger brother of Lakers star Pau Gasol. His goal coming to Manhattan College was -- and still is -- to play in the prestigious NCAA tournament. It won't happen this season because the Jaspers have been awful, winning only four of their first 22 games.

"I would never feel sorry for myself. I can't even say I'd rather have two hands. If I had two, I might not have the same character. I might not even be playing basketball,'' Laue said. "I'm an American citizen, with food on my table every day. There are people around the world who would give their left arm for all that. I had a mother who really believed in me. And I'll always be grateful.''

It was his father who gave him the size (Wayne Laue was 6-8), but it was Jodi and his siblings who made him believe that there was nothing he could not do.
"When I'm out there playing basketball, I don't want people thinking I'm the one-armed guy. When I'm playing well, they don't even realize I'm missing anything.''
-- Kevin Laue

She was the one who helped him get past the hurtful taunts of other school children when he was young. She was the one who found him a coach who could teach him the game. She was the one who kept encouraging him to keep going, even when he was cut from his eighth grade team. She was the one who taught him how to tie his shoes like everyone else. It wasn't easy for her to send him across the country to play basketball after guiding him for so many years, but she was confident in his maturity.

"Only thing I can't do is the monkey bars,'' he said. "And play the piano. Other than that, anything goes. When I'm out there playing basketball, I don't want people thinking I'm the one-armed guy. When I'm playing well, they don't even realize I'm missing anything.''

Laue is a business management major at Manhattan, but most of his energy goes into basketball. He is bright, articulate, resourceful, wanting to own his own business one day. Yet first he has unfinished basketball business.

"I've always had obstacles in front of me, but I've always overcome them,'' he said. "A lot of people never thought I'd get this far. But that's what drives me. I'm not done. My dad passed away when I was 10. It seems like a lifetime ago. I just wish he had seen where I was going."
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