Nick Doland bounced the basketball, bent his knees and lined up the free-throw shot. The high-arcing attempt bounced off the back of the rim and fell to the floor.
Doland quickly took off sprinting toward the other end of the court — the penalty for a missed free throw in practice — then returned to his spot on the line for another try.
On his next attempt, the Chaparral High senior wing returned to his routine. This time, the shot smoothly went through the net. Same for his next attempt.
Doland’s practice paid off.
He was fouled in the fourth quarter last week during a tournament and calmly drilled the free throws for his first career points in four seasons with the program.
His teammates, realizing the significance of the moment for their friend, went overboard in their celebration. They jumped off the bench in joy and hollered words of encouragement.
Doland has been the last man on the Cowboys bench the past three seasons and inserted into games only when the score is decided. He’s a special-needs student, but coaches and players treat him like an equal.
Other local players with special needs have scored in recent seasons in moments coordinated by coaches and officials. Doland’s points were different — he was fouled while attempting a shot in live game action, and made the free throw.
His teammates will tell you Doland is not limited by special needs. Rather, he’s just like Chaparral’s other 14 players in his desires to participate and willingness to put in the work.
“We don’t give pity to anyone around here,” said Jonathan Tendale, his teammate. “We treat him just like we treat any other teammate. He’s earned everyone’s respect.”
Chaparral coach Steve Bentz always saves the last roster spot for Doland. And that has little to do with charity. Nobody outworks him in practice and his passion for the team is downright refreshing, the coach says.
One game, Chaparral faced a large deficit and players walked to the bench in low spirits. But Doland was enthusiastic in motivating teammates and urged them to keep fighting. They started to play better out of the timeout, and even though they lost the game, a valuable lesson was learned.
Like Doland, players were reminded to cherish each opportunity to play.
“I don’t feel like I am losing a spot by having him on the team,” Bentz said. “Everyone loves that kid. It’s not about talent. It’s about what he brings to our team.”
Doland on most days is the first player to arrive at practice and the last to leave. He hustles through drills and is always smiling, so much so that it is contagious with teammates. He appreciates the game with such sincerity that you can’t help enjoying yourself, too.
“He never gives up. No matter what, we can always count on him to cheer us on,” said Tre Roberts, Doland’s teammate and friend since middle school. “He works harder than any of us.”
Doland says his favorite part of basketball is being affiliated with the Chaparral team. He also loves to shoot the ball, especially from the outside. Coaches aspire for him to make a 3-pointer before the season ends.
Bentz presented him with the game ball after he scored last week, cuing one of those trademark smiles and plenty of hugs from teammates.
“It was great,” he proudly says. “It was exciting.”
Here’s a student who is mostly reserved and quiet in class but has found his niche in basketball. It’s a credit to his teammates and coaches showing him the way, and a credit to the kid for his passion for the game. It’s a friendly reminder that sports have a greater importance than the outcome of a game; it’s about being part of a greater good.
Doland also found an affinity for talking. When he plays one-on-one with teammates, he gets so excited he frequently talks trash. And he backs it up with effort. He’s also been known to boast when beating teammates in NBA 2K, a popular video game.
“He just fits in with the team,” Bentz said.