Beating the odds
NEW PORT RICHEY - Michael Jordan was one of the greatest collegiate and professional basketball players of all time. But during his sophomore year at Laney High School in Wilmington, N.C., he was cut trying to make the varsity basketball team. He later wrote, "I think that not making the varsity team drove me to really work at my game and taught me that if you set goals and work hard to achieve them, the hard work can pay off." In 2009, a local basketball player, Aron Handan, failed to make the Ridgewood High School basketball team as a junior. Handan, 19, turned a setback into success. Last fall, despite lifelong ailments in his feet and legs, he made the PHCC basketball team as a walk-on. "I was determined to lose weight, get in shape and develop strength in my legs to make the team at PHCC," he said.Standing 6-foot-9 and weighing 310 pounds as a high school junior, he searched online and developed an individualized program to reach his goal. He ran two miles every day on his high school track. He lifted weights for 45 minutes per day, alternating between his lower and upper body. After school, he headed over to the New Port Richey Recreational and Aquatic Center, where he swam and practiced basketball. To develop stamina, he ran "suicide drills," comprised of running full speed from the end line of a basketball court, touching the free-throw line, then running back to the end line. He also changed his diet. He cut out sweets and fast food and ate only whole grain cereal, fruit, fish, vegetables, and pasta. His weight dropped to under 250 pounds. "At the Recreation Center, I have seen Aron literally grow from a kid into a man in the few years I have known him," said strength and conditioning specialist Justin Lawrence. "After his senior year, I saw a change in him. His work ethic and maturity have increased dramatically. He was in here every day working out, swimming and playing pickup basketball games." With no varsity high school basketball experience, Handan realized the difficulty in getting recruited by the PHCC coach. Hoping to get noticed, he started going to the gym to shoot baskets and run laps. One day, head basketball coach James Johnson saw the young athlete and started a conversation. Handan was challenged to complete a variety of drills and exercises. Shortly afterward, he was invited to join the team. "Aron is a great student and a person who is a joy to be around," Johnson said. "He's always asking questions so he can be clear as to what he needs to do. Because of his height, everyone who sees him expects him to be able to play basketball. Although his skills need improvement more than most college players, last season he worked just as hard in practice as any player that I have coached in 20 years." As further testimony to his perseverance, Handan is required to wear a set of leg braces during the day and another pair when he sleeps. "Aron has a condition known as plantar fascial fibromatosis," said John Hoppes of Advanced Prosthetics/Orthotics in New Port Richey. He also suffers from one leg being about an inch shorter than the other. Despite the agony of the braces, he realizes that he cannot take them off for even a day. "They are hot, itchy and cause me constant pain," he said. "But, if I stop wearing them, I could not reach my dream of playing at a four-year college."
If you would like to nominate an outstanding local athlete to be featured in an upcoming In the Community article, contact Cliff Gill at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 860-4903.