Basketball dreams | November 29, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - November 29, 2013

Basketball dreams

Kevin Laue wins Heroes award for courage

by Glenn Wohltmann

Kevin Laue is not someone who easily takes "no" for an answer.

Laue has been a fighter since before he was born, when his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. He worked his arm under it, saving his life but cutting off circulation to the arm and ultimately leaving him with an arm ending at the elbow.

It was doubly unfortunate, since it was his left arm and he was left-side dominant, meaning he had to learn to do everything from writing to tying his shoelaces to playing basketball with his right hand.

When he was cut from his school's seventh-grade basketball team at Pleasanton Middle School -- despite already being 6 feet, 9 inches tall -- he persuaded his mother to take him to Livermore to try out for a traveling team, where he met coach Patrick McKnight.

"My mom failed to mention that I had one arm. That was kind of a shocker when I walked in," Laue said.

But McKnight gave him a shot. He saw something special in the young hopeful, and decided to do all he could to help Laue make the varsity team.

McKnight's determination drove Laue to accomplish more than he might have on his own. The meeting was the start of a five-year relationship between the two: a white, one-armed basketball player and a black coach of an opposing team. Laue wound up on McKnight's Amateur Athletic Union team, the Tri-Valley Outlawz, playing with older, more seasoned players.

"We traveled around the country and played games. All of the best players from all the high school teams were on this team," Laue said.

Laue was 6 feet, 11 inches tall by the time he got to high school, and his work with McKnight began to pay off. He made the Amador Valley Varsity team, averaging eight points, eight rebounds and six blocks per game while being described by other players as the team's star.

In 2007, Sports Illustrated called Laue "the most exciting player in basketball," a nod to his ability to play well with just one hand.

As he continued to grow, so did his dreams. He was sidelined with a broken leg in his senior year at Amador, but began to talk about making a Division I college basketball team.

"It comes with the red hair, stubbornness," Laue said. "My mom raised me with the mentality that I can do anything."

Laue did a yearlong postgraduate stint at Fork Union Military Academy in late 2008, averaging 6.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, receiving recruiting letters from a number of Division III teams. In 2009, thanks in part to an article in The New York Times, he received a scholarship to attend Division I Manhattan College.

A lucky meeting with an opposing coach at an AAU event gave Laue his current career path, and a little stardom along the way.

That coach, Franklin Martin, is also a filmmaker, and he recorded Laue's day-to-day struggles, including coming to terms with the death of his father from cancer to his dream of a Division I basketball scholarship.

It was a meeting that almost didn't take place. Martin had no interest in attending a summer AAU tournament in Las Vegas where temperatures were reaching 110 degrees, but a friend wouldn't take no for an answer.

Martin described Laue as looking "exactly like a young Bill Walton with braces."

"Twenty-five years of playing and coaching organized basketball on virtually every level, and I'd never seen anyone even try to play hoops with one arm," Martin said of his first encounter with Laue. "It defied logic."

Martin's documentary, "Long Shot: The Kevin Laue Story" has made the short list for a potential Academy Award nomination -- something Laue describes as "unbelievable."

"To see yourself on the big screen in front of thousands of people," he said, "feels like a dream."

Laue said the message of the movie is simple: "Nothing is out of reach if you have the heart to grasp it."

Now he's spreading his message of hope and perseverance to others as a motivational speaker. He's met with President George W. Bush and has spoken at business events and colleges across the country.

But basketball is still in his blood, and Laue has a tryout with the Harlem Globetrotters coming up.

"I would love to play on the Globetrotters," he said. "I love playing basketball, and I always have."

Laue FYI:

* Born in 1990

* Wears size 17 shoes

* Calls his left arm "the Nub"

* Refused to get a prosthetic arm

* Made his first dunk in eighth grade

* Featured in The New York Times, USA Today, CBS News and the San Francisco Chronicle

* Dubbed "the most exciting player in basketball" by Sport Illustrated in 2007

* "Long Shot" called "'Rocky' of documentary films" by Washington Times

* Spoken about disabilities before the United Nations