National : One-handed Laue overcomes adversity to play Division-I basketball for Manhattan

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Rob Collins issued the group of boys and girls in front of him an order: Take off your shoes.‘All right,’ the longtime high school coach said, ‘now I want you to tie your shoe with one hand.’Speaking at a basketball camp last summer, Collins watched as each player —ranging from fourth to eighth grade —tried again and again with no success. He continued speaking.‘I know a guy with one hand who can tie his shoes. He doesn’t have a Velcro strap. He has regular, high-top shoes, size 17, and he ties them with one hand.’Collins was referring to Kevin Laue, who he coached for two seasons at Amador Valley (Calif.) High School. Now playing for Manhattan College (14-7, 7-2 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference), the 6-foot-11, 230-pound junior center is believed to be the only one-handed player in NCAA history to earn a Division-I scholarship.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textBut he’s endured even more. A broken leg his senior year at Amador Valley turned away potential Division-I recruiters. The divorce of his parents would have been enough to shatter any 6-year-old’s world. The death of his father, who passed away from brain cancer a few years later, could be viewed as downright cruel.And the prolonged, inspirational journey from Pleasanton, Calif., to Riversdale, N.Y., almost never happened.Born with his left arm ending roughly an inch past his elbow, Laue’s umbilical cord wrapped twice around his neck while in the womb. His left arm —pinned between his neck and the cord —saved his life, permitting the flow of oxygen to his brain. In the process, he cut off blood circulation to the arm, stunting its growth and leaving him with a mass of scar tissue over his elbow.For the first of many times in his life, Laue beat the odds and was born Friday, April 13, 1990.‘It may have taken my left arm, but I’m still alive,’ Laue said, ‘so I’m a happy camper on that one.’Despite all of those tribulations, his mother, Jodi Jarnagin, said Laue has always been comfortable with his disability. When Jarnagin purchased a prosthetic arm for him as a young child, Laue wasn’t interested.Living with one hand was all he knew.‘It was so funny. That kid would let the harness hang like a purse strap, and this arm would be hanging down his side,’ Jarnagin said. ‘He’d be using his nub to do everything, play video games and everything else.’At 5, Laue’s parents signed him up for soccer, a sport he could play virtually unhindered by his disability. He enjoyed it, but also chose to play baseball, football and eventually basketball in middle school.In seventh grade, one of his buddies asked Laue to try out for the basketball team with him. Having played only sparingly before then, he obliged but was cut.After joining a travel team and sharpening his game, he made the team a year later. And at Amador Valley, Laue proved he was more than just a heartwarming story. He could score, rebound and block shots.However, the varsity head coach at that time told the JV coach he would not play Laue without a prosthesis, Jarnagin said. Luckily he retired entering Laue’s junior season, and Collins replaced him.‘The principal introduced me to him and said, ‘Hey, there’s your center, but he’s only got one arm,” Collins said. ‘And I looked at him and I was like, ‘This guy’s got a sick sense of humor.’ So there’s this Bill Walton lookalike standing there next to his truck. I started talking to him, and he seemed like a heck of a nice young man, and he was 6-10.‘I just decided I was going to play him. By just playing him, it was amazing to watch it.’Laue registered 14 points, eight rebounds and eight blocks per game that season, garnering interest from Division-II, Division-III and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics programs. Some coaches told him D-I schools wouldn’t recruit a one-handed player.But he refused to settle, planning to use his senior campaign to attract Division-I schools.Collins implored scouts and coaches to give him a chance. When a coach from Humboldt State (Calif.) asked for tape, Collins sent film from a game in which Laue, playing with the flu, led the Dons to an 86-84 victory over a team from the Bronx.‘Kevin had, I want to say, 20 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks,’ Collins said. ‘And he had the flu.’But it wasn’t enough.‘The coach says to me, from Humboldt State, ‘I just don’t think he can do it at (the next level). I feel concerned about his ability to catch the ball,’ Collins said.‘And I said, ‘Well, there’s your biggest mistake, man. Don’t think he can’t do it.”Then, just as Laue began receiving interest from Division-I programs, tragedy struck again.The same day he met with former President George Bush, who read Laue’s story in a 2007 Sports Illustrated article, Laue broke his leg diving for a loose ball against Monte Vista (Calif.) High School.He sought the help of his AAU coach, Frank Martin. Martin called Col. Fletcher Arritt, the men’s basketball coach at Fork Union Military Academy (Va.), saying that he would bring Laue for a workout. Arritt, who has produced more than 150 Division-I players in his 46 years coaching, gave Laue the chance he so desperately needed.Averaging 10 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks per game, Laue again silenced doubters. He used his nub to face guard opponents, and he even outplayed now-Kansas star forward Thomas Robinson when Fork Union upset No. 1 Brewster Academy (N.H.) at a tournament in Rhode Island.‘Laue in about 15 minutes, I think, had nine points, five rebounds and a two-shot foul at the end of the game to ice the game,’ Arritt said. ‘… Honestly, he played probably better than Robinson that night.’Arritt reached out to Division-I schools where he had connections. Colgate offered Laue a roster spot and a partial scholarship. Wofford made a similar offer.Ultimately, Cal Poly and Manhattan were the only two schools putting full rides on the table. But the morning Laue visited Cal Poly, Jarnagin said, the entire coaching staff was fired.So Laue became a  Jasper.‘Shock. Definitely I was kind of relieved, a whole bunch of mixtures of feelings,’ Laue said of his reaction to achieving his dream. ‘At that point, I’d sacrificed a lot, basically a year to travel 3,000 miles away from home.’But it was worth it.Though he only plays sparingly, Laue is the key to some of Manhattan’s 14 wins this year, forward Rhamel Brown said. A corner block by Laue late in the first half of a Nov. 21 win over Fresno State brought the Manhattan bench to its feet.Assistant coach Scott Padgett said there will be another game this season when the team will need Laue to provide a spark.But that’s nothing for him. Laue has tackled hardships in 21-plus years that most people don’t face in a lifetime.‘I don’t care at all that I have one arm. I actually like it,’ Laue said. ‘It’s who I am, and I honestly wouldn’t change it if I had a choice.’[email protected] Commentscenter_img Published on January 25, 2012 at 12:00 pm Contact Stephen: [email protected] | @Stephen_Bailey1last_img

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