Just Like Mike: Tyler DeVries Enjoys One Shining Moment
Thanks To Teammates And Coach Who Cared, Tyler DeVries Enjoys One Shining Moment
By Dave Lomonico
More than 1,000 fans packed the gym at Linganore High School in Frederick on March 16 for a basketball game between the Lancers and visiting Middletown High. Normally the gym is less than half full, but this was no ordinary basketball game. It was Senior Night, and something special usually happens on Senior Night.
Little did everyone know this year's "something special" would be Tyler DeVries, a senior who had never suited up for a single game, a team manager who operated the clock during practice, a boy born with cerebral palsy and no motor coordination on his left side. He was the one who would give them the most unforgettable moment of their lives.
"It's something I'll cherish for the rest of my life," said Tyler 's father, Kevin DeVries.
"In a million years I never would have thought this could have happened," said Linganore basketball coach Tom Kraft. "Somebody up there was looking out for him tonight."
Desiree DeVries said her son was born a fighter. She gave birth 10 weeks prematurely and doctors gave Tyler little chance to live. He made it through the first three nights in intensive care before suffering a stroke. But the newborn survived, albeit with severe consequences. Tyler DeVries had cerebral palsy.
Fortunately, the disability didn't affect his cognitive skills. But growing up he walked with a noticeable limp and his left arm stuck out like a clothes hanger. When he was little, he used to fall over while trying to walk.
"I'd go over and try to help him up," Desiree said. "But he'd push me away and say, 'No, Mommy. I can do it.'"
Still, growing up was frustrating. Tyler watched his brothers learning how to ride bikes, his friends playing catch with their dads, and his neighbors running around the backyard. DeVries couldn't do any of it. Instead, he was inside an operating room, getting three leg surgeries and struggling simply to walk out the door every morning.
But DeVries was determined to be just like his siblings and peers.
"He's always wanted to show people that if you have a disability it shouldn't stop you from going after your dreams," Desiree said.
DeVries found solace in the one thing he could do just as well as anyone else: shoot a basketball. He could pick up a big orange ball in his right hand, balance it against his left arm and throw it toward a net. That he could do … over and over and over again.
He played at the local court and on his garage hoop for hours every day, regardless of the weather. When it snowed three feet, DeVries got out his shovel, ignored the snow-covered walkway and began clearing out the basketball hoop instead.
"All I ever wanted to do was play basketball," DeVries said. "My favorite player is Michael Jordan. So when I was shooting, I imagined playing in the NBA and hitting a buzzer-beating shot just like Mike."
Linganore senior guard Danny Hennigan is one of DeVries' best friends. They live in the same neighborhood and have been shooting hoops together since kindergarten. Hennigan remembers once when DeVries had to have leg surgery and couldn't walk.
"After the surgery I visited him and he was pretty bummed," Hennigan said. "But he didn't care about missing school or not being able to go out. All he cared about was that he couldn't go outside and shoot."
DeVries eventually mastered running with a non-responsive left side. It was awkward, to say the least, but he could move fast enough to play recreation league basketball. His real goal, however, was to make the high school team at Linganore.
He tried out for the team his freshman year, but didn't come close to making the cut. Still, Kraft took a liking to DeVries. It took guts to try out. Plus, it was obvious he had an uncanny obsession with the game.
Kraft invited DeVries to stay on as team manager. He couldn't play or practice, but he could help in the rebound line, operate the shot clock and get the equipment ready for road trips.
"He appreciated the coach's offer and he loved it," Kevin DeVries said. "But it wasn't the capacity he wanted. He wanted to play ball."
Still, DeVries held no grudges. He embraced his managerial duties, befriended all of the players and became the team's No. 1 supporter. But there was no doubt he burned to wear one of those white and red jerseys with his name on the back.
"I dreamed of playing varsity basketball forever," DeVries said. "I didn't make it, but I always kept working hard and staying positive.”
DeVries showed up for tryouts his sophomore year brimming with confidence. He was cut. Ditto his junior year. No luck his senior year, either.
"Those were tough moments, getting those phone calls from him on the day teams were posted and hearing him say he didn't make the team," Kevin said. "Every year he was humbled. As a father you always try to find words to console him … but there really are none."
But even as DeVries watched his varsity dream fade away, he still went to practice, joked with the guys, set the clock and inspired the team at halftime.
"Every practice, every game, he's always there and he's always positive," said Linganore senior forward Jeff Havenstein. "One time last year we were on the road and we were down a couple points at half … he started getting on everybody and pumping us up. We came back and won that game.
"Tyler is one of the guys. We all love Tyler. He means everything to us."
Three years ago, Kraft had an idea. It was a crazy idea, for sure, but the coach discussed his idea with Desiree DeVries.
"Wouldn't it be cool if Tyler was with the team as manager all four years and in his senior year we get him on the court?" Kraft asked.
The situation would have to be perfect, but things started to fall into place as this past season wound down. A record snowstorm blanketed Maryland, forcing schools to close down for more than a week. High school games throughout the area were postponed. With Linganore unable to practice, it gave Kraft time to think. Hs mind wandered to Tyler DeVries and an idea he hatched three years prior.
Kraft picked up the phone and dialed the Middletown basketball coaches, Jon Jarrett and Tim Leber, whose team would be playing Linganore on Senior Night. What did they think of a player with cerebral palsy taking the court for just a few minutes early in the first half?
"They were all for it," Kraft said.
Then Kraft talked to his team, his assistants and his team manager. Needless to say, they were elated. After all, DeVries had been with the team as long as anyone, save Kraft himself.
On game day, DeVries practiced with the Lancers for the first time. He participated in the team walkthrough, listened to the game plan and took a light shoot-a-round. That night, he donned a Lancers jersey with the rest of his friends and teammates. And at 7 p.m., someone else brought out the water bottles.
Tyler DeVries had been promoted.
For the first six minutes, DeVries sat on the bench. To a boy waiting his entire life for this moment, it felt like hours. Finally, with two minutes left in the quarter, Kraft turned and said, "DeVries, check in." Like a seasoned veteran, DeVries rose, walked to the scorers' table and said "No. 33 checking in." The crowd, fully aware of the situation, stood up and cheered.
"I was real nervous," DeVries said. "Probably more nervous than I've ever been."
Once he took the court, it was just basketball -- the game he had been playing every day for more than a decade. The goal was to have DeVries score, but Middletown wasn't about to let in a cheap bucket. The opposition played tough defense and even knocked DeVries down when he went in for a rebound.
"They played him the way they would anybody else," Kraft said. "And that's the way Tyler wanted it. He didn't want any favors. This was something he earned."
With one minute left, Tyler took his first high school jump shot. The crowd groaned as it rimmed in and out. Then with a few seconds left in the quarter, DeVries got a second chance. Again, the shot hit iron and bounded away.
"I was feeling really frustrated because a lot of my friends and family came to see me play, and I just wanted to make one shot for them," DeVries said. "I thought that was it. I thought I wouldn't get another chance."
But every great hero must hit the nadir before he reaches the summit. On this night, DeVries would get one last chance.
"By the start of the fourth quarter, the pressure started to build on us," Hennigan said. "We had a good lead and I told the guys, 'Let’s play some tough defense and get Tyler on the court again.' We wanted to see him make that shot.”
So did the 1,000-plus in attendance. With 1:30 left in the game, it was evident the Lancers would win. The crowd starting chanting, "We want Tyler!" in a hardwood rendition of Rudy. Caught up in the moment, Kraft succumbed. DeVries marched back onto the floor for his date with destiny.
The play call? "Get the ball to Tyler," Kraft said bluntly.
Middletown refused to relent. It looked like DeVries' dream would die. But with 10 seconds left and Linganore ahead, 61-47, the Lancers got the ball under their own basket.
Point guard Mike Wirtz took the inbounds pass and pushed it up the floor like he was starting a fast break. DeVries hobbled to an open area just outside the three-point line. Wirtz hit him with a chest pass.
DeVries caught the ball with his right hand and dribbled into the lane. As the Middletown defense collapsed, DeVries hoisted up a 16-foot jump shot from just left of the lane. Desiree gasped. Kevin wildly snapped pictures with his digital camera. The rest of the crowd went silent.
Then, the buzzer sounded.
"I knew it would go in," Havenstein said. "It had to go in. He put in all the work; he shot those types of shots every day. He's not just some guy who never touched a basketball before."
The ball rose in a perfect arc. Just like Mike in the '93 NBA Finals, it never touched rim. Nothing but net.
On the sidelines, the Lancers jumped up and stormed the court.
"After the shot, he was running so fast down the court we had to catch up to him," Havenstein said. "He had the biggest smile in the world. We were all hugging him and giving him high-fives. You could see the tears in people's eyes. It was really special, probably the best moment I've ever been a part of."
In the stands, his parents waited patiently. They let him enjoy the moment with his friends, his teammates. When he finally made his way over, the DeVries family embraced.
"I just started crying; it was incredible," Desiree said. "We knew it meant everything to him. To see him accomplish something that he's wanted to do all his life and to see how happy he was … to share that with him … it was indescribable as a parent. Total joy."
A day later, DeVries walked into school a celebrity. Everyone from teachers to administrators to students congratulated him, told him how proud they were, calling him an inspiration. As DeVries sat in class, he thought about the shot and began putting it in perspective.
"All my life I always dreamed of hitting a basket and everyone storming the court for me," DeVries said. "It happened, and I just felt like all my hard work paid off. But more than anything else, I wanted to prove to everyone that anything is possible, no matter who you are or what kind of disability you have.
"And you know what? Anything is possible."
Issue 148: April 2010