Great weekend for ESPN, and not because they broadcast the Wisconsin win over Ohio State, bringing down the last undefeated team in college basketball. Rather, it was their tributes to two super Division I basketball players – Manhattan’s Kevin Laue and Michael Lizarraga from Cal State – Northridge.
Laue, a 6-foot-10 post player for the Jaspers is missing his left hand. At birth, the circulation in his left arm was cut off by the umbilical cord, and he has spent his whole life with a left arm that ends just past the elbow. He uses his upper arm to catch the ball and he can easily palm the ball with his right hand. He did a PG season at Fork Union with Coach Fletcher Arritt – one of the best people in the world. It was there – averaging about 10 points and 5 rebounds a game – that he drew some attention from DI coaches, but it was Manhattan College’s Barry Rohrssen who was the one to make Kevin’s dream come true.
“We take chances on kids who have poor academic histories, who have disciplinary problems both on and off the court,” the coach once said, regarding Laue. “We give opportunities to players who don’t appreciate them, who take them for granted. For all the right reasons, Kevin deserves this chance.” Coach, we are glad you gave him that chance – and college basketball is better because you did.
College basketball is also benefiting from the play of Michael Lizarraga, a 6-foot-7 senior from Cal State – Northridge – and the only deaf men’s basketball player in Division I. A gifted athlete, Michael starred in football, baseball and basketball at the California School for the Deaf, and his teachers encouraged him to continue on at Gallaudet in DC – the nation’s only liberal arts university for the deaf. However, signing to a reporter, he told the world: “My biggest dream was always to play Division I basketball. There were people who said I would never be able to do it. That made me more determined. I would say my favorite quote is, ‘Don’t tell me I can’t because I will.'” And he has.
Earning a spot on the Matadors squad as a walk-on, he now plays 20 minutes a game (started nine games) and averages six points and four rebounds a game. He scored a career high 15 against Cal earlier this year, as the politically correct but obviously ill-informed Straw Hat Band and student section shouted chants and tried to heckle him as his teammates had a good laugh for themselves. His coach – Bobby Braswell – challenged his players before the DePaul game to follow the example of Lizarraga, who has not let obstacles turn into excuses for not succeeding. Northridge went on to beat DePaul and it was the first win for a Big West team against a Big East team since 2005. And, during Christmas Break, on a four-hour hike that ended in front of the famous HOLLYWOOD sign, Michael proposed to his girlfriend – Kendra “Blessing,” a hearing student from Pennsylvania who went to Cal State – Northridge to major in deaf studies, and met Michael at a bowling party last year.
COLLEGE HOOPS + GREAT KIDS = IT DOESN’T GET ANY BETTER THAN THIS!