CLEVELAND — When 5th grader Ryan Rasul is on the basketball court, he feels at home. He knows if he puts in the time and effort, it will lead to great things.
“I want to make it to the NBA. I want to be a basketball star,” Ryan told us.
But, before he makes it big, he has some very important work to do. It's called Little Hands, a youth basketball program he created with his dad, Harold Rasul, at Citizens Academy Southeast.
“We empower young athletes through teaching basketball fundamentals and dribbling skills to increase hand-eye coordination and confidence," said Ryan.
His mother, Ramona Smith, says the game has always been in his blood.
“Well, we brought Ryan home from the hospital with a basketball in his hand. So, this is no surprise. And, he is just following in his dad's footsteps," Ramona told us.
Harold played college ball and coaches at Trinity High School in Garfield Heights. He's impressed by his son's natural ability to connect with the players.
“The fact that he's just one of these kids who understands his power, realizing, 'I can lead these little hands.' And, that's just that's just a powerful thing," Harold told us.
It's powerful, because years ago, Ryan's basketball dreams were anything but promised.
“He’s a survivor ... not one, not two, but three brain surgeries," Harold said.
In 2014, Ryan was diagnosed with Ependymoma. The cancerous tumor was found in the back of his brain that controls vision. Right before surgery, his parents had a moment, for which no one was prepared.
“I will always remember, the one time they let me bring him to the operating bed. I wondered, 'Why did they let me do that?' and the nurse, she simply said, 'Because that may be your last time with your son.' And that was so powerful and honest,” Harold said.
Nearly nine years later, Ryan is thriving. Though it's hard to look back on the past, there are meaningful lessons learned.
“Those moments are just some powerful moments in my life in his mother’s life,” Harold said. “Hopefully it brings people power, you know, because that’s what it brings me. That’s what gets me up in the morning.”
Also healing? Being on the court with Ryan and the other players.
Some of them are experienced, and others are dribbling for the first time. It's a first for Ryan, too, as head coach.
“I saw a few smiles. I saw a few, 'I can't do this,' and that's really what I'm looking for, because I want to get that out of their system. So, when they're older, they have confidence," Ryan said.
The students are improving each day and having fun. Ryan wouldn't have it any other way. It's his "why." And, he'll never take for granted the journey he took to get here.
“It is important to teach kids these skills when they are young because they build up habits and they can build up bad habits and they see what us grown-ups do or us big kids do," Ryan said.
Editor's Note: The following video is from a previous, unrelated report.
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