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One-Handed Basketball Player a Team Leader

February 14, 1988|United Press International

BOSSIER CITY, La. — Point guard Tommy McGinnis takes the ball upcourt and just above the key an opposing guard picks up the defense. McGinnis whips the basketball behind his back and zips to his left, getting an angle on the other guard before passing off.

He moves smartly. He makes it look easy. He ignores the nub at the end of his left arm that never developed into a hand.

McGinnis, 18, a senior at Parkway High School, leads his team in three-point shots and free throw percentage despite the handicap. He averages 10.3 points per game and hits 82% of his free throws.

He was born with a nub of a left hand after the umbilical cord wrapped around it during development. Doctors said he was a natural left-hander, but a quirk of nature has forced him to compensate.

If the left hand is unusual in its appearance, it is used to its ultimate performance on the court. McGinnis is far from perfect; he makes the usual mistakes--off-target passes, muffed dribbles and missed shots.

But he is a leader of his team, shouting instructions to his teammates. He praises their accomplishments and agonizes over his mistakes. He says he is neither uneasy nor courageous. He describes himself as a kid with one hand trying to do his best with what he has.

"I never say, 'Oh, I could have been better if I had two hands.' I might lay there in bed and, being natural, say how much better I could have been," he said. "But it's certainly not something I dwell on. I think about it once or twice a year.

"When I walk in to a room, I want them to meet me, the person, not the guy with one hand. Other than that, I let them make the decision."

His coach, Pat Allgood, said McGinnis has handled his situation with aplomb.

"He is uncomfortable talking about it," Allgood said. "He doesn't want any special attention."

McGinnis' left arm begins normally at the shoulder, but it is noticeably smaller than the other. It ends just below the wrist, with a nub of a hand and only the faintest hint of fingers--five little balls of flesh, each about a quarter of an inch long.

He is not as adept moving left as when moving right, and opponents try to seize on that. McGinnis swears he is not affected, and often fools defenders who underestimate his weak side ability.

"I've seen him go through drills in camps, and the coaches running the camps didn't know he had one hand until somebody pointed it out to them," said Allgood. "Coaches have yelled, 'Make him go left!' and it doesn't affect Tommy at all."

"If they force me left, I let them," McGinnis said. "After I take them, they lay off.

"I grew up with my right; I couldn't tell the difference," he added. "I was a natural left-hander, so it took me longer to adjust. I don't see a difference now. To my teammates, I'm a player and we play as a unit."

A major university won't come calling, although McGinnis said he has been contacted by a small college in Arkansas. His career goals are not definite; he is considering teaching, coaching, management or sports writing.

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