Canadian Hoopster Greg Stewart Well-Armed for Success
"He's always got a bagful of spare parts,'' said David Dillon, the certified prosthetist who designs artificial left forearms and hands for Stewart. Dillon said he has seen Stewart "grab his arm and slip it back on'' while running back up the floor to rejoin the play.
Stewart was born with nothing below his left elbow and with a hole in his heart that healed. He plays in Kamloops, British Columbia, for Thompson Rivers University in the Canada West Universities Athletic Association. He leads his nation in rebounding (13.3 per game) and blocked shots (2.4 per game).
His scoring average is 14.8, third on the team. But when Stewart and his Wolfpack (4-18) finish their season Friday and Saturday in Vancouver against the University of British Columbia, it will be the conclusion of his college career.
"I can't believe I'm making it to the end,'' Stewart said. "I've been through head three coaches. This year has been the toughest.''
It also has been his best, although it almost turned out differently.
Stewart considered quitting at least twice this season. It had nothing to do with his disability. His coach, Scott Clark, said Stewart was discouraged by playing on an underachieving team.
But Stewart said his reason was more that he was overwhelmed by off-court commitments, including community work and progress toward a degree in human resources management.
"I told him better days were ahead and you have to live through bad times,'' Clark recalled. "These kids, they spread themselves thin and pretty soon they're running on fumes. He came in and I said, 'Let's take a step back and be reflective.' I sat there and listened to him.''
After Stewart finished talking, it was his coach's turn to speak.
"Coach is like, 'Greg, I'm not going to allow you to quit, if you do, you'll regret it down the road,''' Stewart recalled. "I'm very glad he talked me out of it. I really appreciate it.''
Stewart plays basketball with an artificial hand that he described as "like a giant ping-pong paddle.'' It has a concave shape that helps him capture the ball. He attaches different hands to his artificial forearm for different activities. He said about 60 percent of his shot blocks are with the artificial hand because that allows him to grab the ball with his normal right hand.
"He's handicapped, but he has some advantages,'' Clark said. "He's 7-foot-2 and 290 pounds. That makes up for a lot.''
Stewart's father was in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and that meant frequent moves to different cities as a boy and getting used to new classmates.
Kids stared at him for both his size and his missing limb. When they would ask him what it is like to have one arm, Stewart said he would reply, "What's it like to have two?''
For years, he said his personal motto was "One-armed man can.'' Lately, he has changed it to "Big man can'' because "I don't look at myself as disabled. I'm rebounding like mad.''
Stewart said he has never made a shot with his left hand in a game, but has used it for layups in practice. He also has played hockey, lacrosse, baseball and volleyball.
He played for Team Canada on the standing and sitting volleyball teams for athletes with disabilities. After taking two years off from college, he was re-recruited as a volleyball player for the regular team but drifted back to basketball.
His baseball is limited to softball games now, he said, and he removes his artificial arm to bat and play first base. He said he had never heard of Pete Gray, the one-armed man who played major-league baseball for the St. Louis Browns in 1945.
Dillon, who has treated Stewart since he was an infant, said he designed a special harness this season that loops around Stewart's good arm and helps keep the artificial one attached to his body during scrums beneath the basket.
Clark, in his first year as coach of the Wolfpack, said Stewart has improved all phases of his game, including high-post play and passing. He can even dribble, for one bounce, with his artificial hand, his coach said.
Stewart, who has improved his touch on his outside jump shot, seemed particularly proud of his assists. He averages 1.2 per game. It might not sound like much, he said, but it is up from his previous career average of 0.2.
"As a team, our record isn't great, but we're not getting blown out and we have good team chemistry,'' Stewart said. "Me, personally, I'm having the best year so far.''