Watch: A look inside deaf, autistic basketball player Kade West's unique journey

Kade West just needed something and someone to believe in. The 20-year-old Long Beach resident, born deaf and autistic, never felt like he belonged anywhere. But after the death of his mother, Dijana, from bladder cancer, in 2021, he channeled his grief into basketball — practicing in the alley behind his home and studying videos of his favorite player, Kobe Bryant.

That summer he joined a basketball class at Cerritos College taught by the school’s basketball coach, Russ May, and that grief turned to an obsession. May immediately recognized West’s love for the game and the joy it brought him, and encouraged him to practice with the team. Since summer 2021, West has been a constant presence at the Cerritos gym, working on his game, developing a bond with the players.

When the 2022-23 season started, May added him to the team — a dream come true for West, who finally felt that sense of belonging that had eluded him throughout his life. Because West wasn’t taking the minimum requirement of units for eligibility, his caregivers, cousin Sasha Sviminoff and aunt Lucy Favro filed a waiver exception with the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA), to allow him to play. But clearance was slow and West was eager to get on the court.

There were hiccups — documented in Bill Plaschke’s poignant column — in which May inserted West into a game before he was eligible to play. Yet despite the penalties imposed the team rallied around West, the coach — and the team — acknowledging that some things are more important than wins and losses. As West prepares for his second season with the Cerritos College Falcons, this video offers a glimpse of Kade West’s remarkable journey so far.

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