’10 fingers are overrated’: Cabrillo High basketball player leads team in scoring despite disability

Senior Elijah McGee is leading the Cabrillo boys’ basketball team in scoring this season, and he’s basically doing it with one hand.
McGee, 17, was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome— a congenital disorder caused when the fetus has an appendage wrapped up in uterine bands during the pregnancy.

Posted by Long Beach Post on Thursday, December 20, 2018

Senior Elijah McGee is leading the Cabrillo boys’ basketball team in scoring this season—and he’s basically doing it with one hand.

McGee, 17, was born with amniotic band syndrome—a congenital disorder caused when the fetus has an appendage wrapped up in uterine bands during the pregnancy. That’s what happened to McGee’s left hand, and despite only having a fully developed left thumb, he’s excelled athletically and in the classroom.

Casey Dowling, McGeen’s mom, said she knew something was wrong almost immediately after her son was born.

“I didn’t see him for almost four hours after he was born,” she said. “I didn’t even know what he looked like, or what was wrong. When they brought him back in he looked perfect to me. All I could think about was the things he wouldn’t be able to do in life, but that only lasted a week or so. I came to terms with it. There’s no reason for him to not learn to tie his shoes. There isn’t anything he can’t do.”

McGee was also born deaf, and although he grew out of the blockage that caused it, he had to attend speech and physical therapy throughout his childhood. Dowling also suffers from lupus and rumitoid arthritis, and McGee’s older brother Matthew Dowling, 19, is autistic.

Casey Dowling stands next to her two sons Matthew Dowling, center and Elijah McGee, right, at Cabrillo High School In Long Beach December 13, 2018. Photo by Thomas R Cordova

It would make sense for the whole family to feel hard done by with medical misfortunes, but that’s not how they see it.

“At first my mom used to tell me that God made me this way on purpose, so I should just be used to it,” McGee said. “I don’t really even think about it anymore.”

Dowling is originally from California, but McGee was born in Virginia where Dowling was serving with the U.S. Navy. McGee’s father is not in the picture.

His mom’s military background played a big role in raising her children.

“I didn’t not let him try things even though it scared me,” Dowling said. “I let him get on the monkey bars, and he fell and busted all the teeth out of the front of his mouth. I felt like a bad mom. But, he’s got his teeth and he survived. It didn’t scare him so why should I let it scare me?

“His wanting to do stuff made me more willing to want to let him do it. I didn’t want him to get older and ever wonder what it’s like to play basketball, or anything that someone does on a daily basis with two hands. Ten fingers are overrated.”

McGee has always been fast and athletically gifted, so he excelled at football and running track while growing up in South Carolina. However, watching his older brother play basketball inspired McGee to try out for the local team, and he fell in love sport. His life changed dramatically again three years ago when Dowling moved her family back to Long Beach.

“I didn’t really want to start over and make new friends,” McGee said. “The hardest part was getting used to all of the people. It’s more crowded here. I was born in the South so I’m used to it being slow over there.”

McGee said the family atmosphere of the Carbillo basketball program and teammates like Sirjohn Hardiman, Allen Hewlett and Miguel Figueroa helped him feel at home. Being really good at the sport also helped, and it didn’t take first-year coach Kyles Hawkins long to notice he had a special player to lead this team this season.

“A lot of coaches try to force him one way but it doesn’t work,” Hawkins said. “He’s learned through life and obstacles to get through it. It’s unique in this day and age of basketball to be able to compete, and to be our leading scorer, it’s really amazing.”

Cabrillo’s Elijah McGee In Long Beach December 13, 2018. Photo by Thomas R Cordova

McGee also got a lot of support from the local Frontline AAU Travel Ball Program, which specializes in giving back to the low income families, single parents and veterans of the greater Long Beach area.

“Just the way that he plays you can’t tell that he has a disability,” Frontline coach Seti Lam Sam said. “I do the same things with him that I would do with any other player. We go through all of the drills. He doesn’t want to be labeled as that guy who gets left out of a drill because of his disability. He’s going to do everything that we do regardless.”

McGee is an aggressive player who loves to take the ball to the basket and get to the free throw line, but he also has a smooth jump shot that has helped him average over 15 points per game this season.

“I have younger kids in my program right now who look up to him as a mentor and older brother,” Lam Sam said.

McGee is also an accomplished artist. He grew up drawing his favorite comic book charters, and even has some original art hanging in the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina. This month he won a writing contest at the local Boys & Girls Club, and wants to study architecture while hopefully still playing basketball in college.

“My mom always inspires me and tells me to keep going,” McGee said. “If you really want to do something, just keep trying. When I first started playing I was scared I wouldn’t make the middle school basketball team. But I made it, and it made me think I could do anything.”

“There isn’t a day where I wake up and think that my son has one hand,” Dowling said. “He’s Elijah. He still has to clean his room and wash the dishes. They’re all plastic because he drops them a lot, but he still has to do everything other teenage boys have to do. He’s no different.”

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