I can do anything, are words that Sparwood Spartans’ shooting guard Mackenzie Adams lives by. Every day, he works on his shot in the Sparwood Secondary School gymnasium, with this phrase etched on the sides of his basketball shoes.
Last week the Spartans defeated the Fernie Falcons 73-64 in a regional senior boys basketball tournament, sending Sparwood to the Single A Provincial Championships.
The talented 16-year-old Elk Valley teen will be joining his teammates for the tournament in Langley B.C. this month because, even though he has no legs, he’s got game.
Adams is a bilateral amputee, which means he is missing both legs, one above the knee. He was born with congenital defects in his legs and had them amputated at around the age of 13 months. Throughout his young life he’s had 35 surgeries for hand and leg problems but despite all this, he plays for the number-five ranked senior boys basketball team in the province.
“When I need encouragement I think about how many kids are like me, who want to be doing something like this but don’t because they’re too nervous to get in front of crowds and participate in sports,” he said.
Adams used to go down to the school gym at lunchtime to shoot around with his friends where he eventually developed a passion for basketball.
On defence he plays zone. On offence he usually likes to sit on the three-point line.
“I’m not really strong when it comes to pushing kids out of the way for layups,” he said. “So I’m a shooter.”
He plays anywhere from a quarter to a half per game depending on how he’s feeling physically and how the Spartans are playing. He scored 14 points in a game this year, his highest all season. He was named MVP at a tournament at Lethbridge College.
To run down the court, Adams engages his prosthetic knee with a pressure sensor in his foot.
“When I put pressure in my toe I’ll bend the knee,” he said. “The rest is just muscle memory to know how to run. So I step down, I know my knee’s going to bend, and I can kick my legs at the same speed.”
Spartans’ head coach Peter Templin said Adams moves pretty quickly up the court and that he likes taking threes and is usually pretty good with them. He holds his own when the Spartans are playing defence.
“He makes good passes and we don’t suffer when he’s out there,” said Templin. “I was impressed with his ability and I was impressed with his effort. He goes for it and when he came to play for me – this was his first year – there wasn’t a problem.”
“I think it says a lot about our team when he’s out there.”
His usual day is pretty typical: Adams wakes up, checks his phone, puts on his legs and gets ready for school.
But like many athletes he has a particular game day ritual.
“The first thing I do is put on one of my favourite warm up songs,” he said. “I listen to everything from Nickelback to new hip hop artists. I find if I listen to the same song too many times I do bad, so I have a massive variation. I’ve got country, rap, dupstep. I’ve got a whole whack of songs, it’s ridiculous.”
On road trips he’s usually got Spotify blazing in his headphones.
He wants to take his basketball career as far as it will go and though he knows how to sink a layup, next year he’d like to learn how to dunk.
But his favourite part of playing for the Spartans is the team spirit.
“The whole team supporting me throughout the season,” he said. “If I have a bad game or whatever. It means a lot to me knowing they have my back no matter what. It started as basketball and then it became like a brotherhood to me. Like I consider these guys out there family.”
Like many young men his age, Adams’ favourite player is Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors.
“Just his play style and how he went through injuries,” said Adams. “He was told he was too short to play in the NBA and right now he’s got two back-to-back MVPs and he’s been an All-Star three years in a row. He’ll pull it out from anywhere. He’s just really committed to the sport and I love seeing that. I love when people know they can do it, and they don’t let anything stop them.”