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NORTH KINGSTOWNāSenior night.
For nearly every high school athlete, itās the one event that always leaves a lasting impression.
It was certainly a special night Tuesday for the eight seniors on the North Kingstown boys basketball team ā Jake Mansfield, Spencer Bode, Grant Gillis, Chris Lenox, Evan Gaudreau, Isaiah Butler, Kellen Coleman and Zac Brady. But for Brady in particular, it was a momentous occasion.
āJust to start in the varsity game made my high school career,ā he said after the game. āIf I scored thatās just a bonus. It was good that I scored, but I was more excited just to be a part of the starting lineup.
āā¦It just made me feel like an actual player out there. Even though Iām a part of the team, it made me feel more like a teammate, rather than a manager.ā
Looks can be deceiving.
Donāt judge a book by its cover.
Pick whichever clichĆ© youād like for underestimating someone, and it likely applies to Brady. Upon first glance, itās easy to see why.
As his father Jim explains it, he and his wife Linda were at his brotherās wedding in Virginia when they noticed 15-month old Zac was not acting like himself.
āWe brought him to the hospital, and they thought it was viral meningitis,ā Jim Brady says. āHe started to improve, and they sent him home.ā
The next day ā back in Rhode Island ā Zac ācrashed,ā and was admitted to Hasbro Childrenās Hospital in Providence where it was later discovered he had encephalitis.
āItās the worst thing you could go through as a parent,ā Jim Brady says.
Zac spent the next two weeks in intensive care at Hasbro, and the virus left him with āgross fine motor issues,ā as his father put it.
Even with his physical limitations, Zac never let them define who he was and ultimately, they would become the impetus to his persevering personality.
Zac walks the way he walks.
Not different, just in his own way ā the only way he has ever known. And thatās how, as he grew up, he played sports.
It wasnāt until around sixth grade though, he fell in love with basketball.
āSixth grade was when I started to get involved with Special Olympics,ā he says, āand I just loved basketball ever since.ā
From there he spent many of warm summer days in the backyard perfecting his shot ā upwards of two-plus hours at a time ā and anyone who has seen him play before knows, heās lethal from beyond the arc.
It wasnāt until two years later though, when he went to an open tryout for the Davisville Middle School basketball team in eighth grade that Zac truly understood what the sport meant to him.
āI went to the first open gym,ā Zac says, āand I never went to the second open gym.ā
While he did not make the team as a player, Davisvilleās coach at the time, Kyle Bodington, saw something in Zac that could be a major asset to his team.
āHe was real disappointed, but I knew I could get him to be a big part of the team,ā Bodington says. āI think he was upset not making [the team with] the initial group of guys.ā
So Bodington ā who called Brady āone of his favorite kids heās ever coachedā ā enlisted one of his Zacās friends, Alex Gershkoff, to ask Zac to come back to the team as the manager. It would prove to be a defining moment in his young life.
āIt made me understand who I am,ā Brady says. āObviously I canāt be out there, but itās just fun being around the team. Even though I donāt play, itās still a good experience because I want to be a coach when Iām older.
āAt first I was mad that I wasnāt out there, but now because of Special Olympics and Unified Iāve got my own season. Itās just fun hanging out with these guys.ā
Zac may not have been on the court all the time ā he did get into a few games at Davisville ā but he was undoubtedly a big part of the team.
Zac talks the way he talks.
Not different, just in his own way ā the only way he has ever known. And thatās how, as he grew up, he learned about basketball.
Uneducated people often associate stuttering with lack of intelligence, but more often than not that stereotype couldnāt be any further from the truth. Zac Brady is a perfect example of that, and anyone who knows him can attest. Heās articulate, intelligent and well spoken.
āIāve sat next to him in classes and heās helped me more than I could have ever have thought of it,ā Bode says. āWeāre in the same advisory, Iāve had class with him every single day since freshman year. Iāve changed schools, my sophomore year I didnāt go [to NK] and when I came back he was still my friend.ā
Being the well-spoken individual he is, when Zac got to high school he expressed to head boys basketball coach Aaron Thomas that he wanted to be the team manager ā insisting on being with the varsity according to both his father and Thomas.
āFrom day one heās been a part of the team,ā Thomas says. āI mentioned to the players sometime when he was a freshman, I said guys, āif thereās any issues with Zac anywhere, I expect to see you guys stand up for him.ā The players reassured me of that. They have.ā
A big part of that was Derryck Kilgore, a senior on the team who was in attendance Tuesday night to watch Zac get his first career start.
ā[Thomas] just told me that we had a new manager,ā Kilgore says. āAs soon as I found out I just wanted to get to know the kid. Heās actually a really good kid. My senior year wouldnāt have been as fun as it would have been if not for Zac.
āā¦Even off the court, I was always seeing Zac in classes, always running into him, always messing around with him in the hallways. Having fun. It feels like just yesterday I came onto the court for my senior year and he was a freshman.ā
Since his freshmen year some of the teammates have changed, but itās always been the same Zac; heās a part of the team.
āWe see him as one of us,ā senior Jake Mansfield says. āWhen we go around talking to each other, we talk to him as one of us.ā
Whether it was joking with Kilgore or shooting contests with Owen Heath, Zac has always been a Skipper. Thatās what made Tuesday night so special, not just for Zac ā who by far received the loudest ovations of the night ā but for his teammates too.
Brady scored the first points of the game against Coventry ā on an uncharacteristic 1-for-3 performance from the senior sharpshooter ā before making his way back to the bench, where he sat with his signature smile.
In the end, it couldnāt have gone any better for NK. All of the seniors got to play, they won the game and the division, and Zac even got a few more seconds at the end of the game.
āIt was fair,ā Thomas says. āSome years I would say that kids would say, āoh, come on,ā but not this year. Every kid went, āabsolutely, what do you want us to do coach.ā
āā¦The point we made to the kids was some things are more important than winning and losing. Heās getting on the floor. Heās earned the right to be on the floor, so whatever happens, happens. Heās been a great manager, a great scout for us, heās helped us out tremendously. Itās his time.ā
Zac is who he is.
Not different, just in his own way ā the only way he has ever known. And thatās how, when grows up, heās going to be involved in basketball.
Tuesday night was undoubtedly a special one for Zac Brady, seeing his first varsity action and getting his first varsity points. But, it is what he has done off the court that is going to truly prepare him for life.
In addition to his managerial duties, Zac has also gone out and scouted other high school teams. According to Thomas and the players, his reports are spot on. It is part of what has led him to continue his involvement with basketball at Johnson & Wales in the fall, where he intends to major in sports management ā with the ultimate goal of getting into coaching.
āSports management isnāt about coaching; itās about events, all those big raffles at games but at Johnson & Wales they have a minor in coaching,ā he explains. āThatās what attracted me, and Johnson & Wales isnāt that far away. I figured it would be a nice school to go to.
āI e-mailed the [basketball] coach, and Iām trying to be the manager of the basketball team at Johnson & Wales. If everything works out, Iāll be able to do what Iām doing now over there.ā
Thereās little doubt that Zac Brady will succeed in whatever he puts his mind to. In his life, heās fallen down ā āa lot,ā he says with a smile ā but that is not what has defined him; itās his ability to pick himself up each time he does.
āItās not how many times you fail, itās about how many times you learn from it,ā he says. āIf you love something, you shouldnāt give up even though itās tough. Iāve always been that way.ā
And likely always will.