Above all else, a point guard’s job is to see the entire court. He is the one with the ball at all times, expected to deliver it to his teammates at the right moment.
Dashawn Joyner, South Bronx’s point guard, does that as well as anyone.
Yet, the junior’s vision is impaired.
Joyner, who averaged 11 points and eight assists per game last year, is legally blind in his left eye, the result of being born with hereditary glaucoma and cataracts in both eyes. Surgery saved his right eye, but not his left.
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It usually starts as a joke, his teammates ribbing him about his lack of vision. Joyner always answers back, making fun of their awkward jump shot or some other deficiency. All while the third party can’t forget what started the back-and-forth tit-a-tat.
How is the kid blind in one eye? Why is this funny? How can someone dominate to such an extent without use of both eyes, see the entire court, play the point guard position?
Elijah Huggins, a transfer from Rice HS in Harlem, was the latest this September.
“I didn’t believe it,” Huggins said. “I didn’t think they were for real.”
Huggins is one of many. Joyner always finds himself in a position befitting a lawyer, convincing the unconvinced party. His two eyes look the same, so there is no way for someone to detect anything abnormal.
South Bronx coach Doug Porter was surprised when he was told of Joyner’s disability. He always held Joyner in high regard when he coached against him on the JV level; he coached at Manhattan Village Academy before last year.
“You lose your depth perception without two eyes, that’s what amazes me,” Porter said. “His sense of touch and awareness is off the charts. He just knows you’re there.”
“When I tell coaches he’s blind in one eye they can’t believe it,” he went on. “I can’t believe it sometimes either.”
The two clashed at times last year, with Joyner showing too much of his playground game, but they have bonded. Joyner has added a floater to his already impressive repertoire that includes an improved jump shot and a dribble, Porter said, that is like he has the ball on a string.
“He’s worth the price of admission,” Porter said.
Porter says Division II and Division III college coaches know him “as the [coach] with the point guard.” Joyner has yet to receive much Division I interest, but Porter feels the time will come. Joyner has grown two inches since last season, up to 6-foot now. And his mother, Sabina Caughman, is 6-foot-2, so there is more room to grow. He can now dunk with both hands, with a vertical leap of 32 inches.
There is little Porter feels his star guard can’t do. Earlier in his coaching career, he worked at Redmond (Wash.) HS, and faced NBA players Brandon Roy of the Portland Trail Blazers and Aaron Brooks of the Houston Rockets.
“I would compare Dashawn to Aaron Brooks at the same time line,” Porter said. “When he gets the ball, I get excited. He’s worth the price of admission.”
The coach added: “I don’t believe anyone has a better point guard. Bring on St. Raymond, Boys & Girls, Lincoln.”
Huggins, a 6-foot-2 forward who played on the freshman team at Rice, historically one of the city’s top programs, before transferring to South Bronx, backed up Porter’s assessment.
“He would be able to play there, start, everything,” the sophomore said.
Gompers coach Donial Rodriguez remembered Joyner fondly from last season, his ability to get to the rim and finish most notably. The two teams split their two meetings, Joyner averaging 16 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.
“He has the ability to be one of the great point guards in the Bronx,” Rodriguez said. “The sky is the limit.”
When informed of Joyner’s condition, Rodriguez was blown away, “shocked,” that Joyner could see the floor and handle double teams without the use of one eye.
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Caughman isn’t nearly as surprised. Her son never let his limitations take over his life. Growing up was tough without use of both eyes. Joyner, his mother recalled, often bumped into things – people, walls, anything. He had trouble learning how to ride a bike.
“He couldn’t do a lot of things other kids were doing,” Caughman said. “It would aggravate him, but he still never gave up.”
There was a time when he was young that she got tired of apologizing to people when he rode his bike into them or crashed. He kept on working at it until he figured it out. Basketball is the same thing.
“He just kept hope and faith alive,” she said. “It does motivate him a lot. He once mentioned that if he had both of his eyes he doesn’t know if he would be an athlete.”
Joyner learned the sport of basketball from his grandmother Judith who passed away in 2006. The two, who shared a close bond, often shot hoops in their backyard. Eventually, Joyner left the nest and headed to nearby playgrounds to improve his craft. He never played AAU basketball; he preferred the blacktop.
To make up for his sight, Joyner relentlessly worked on his game, arriving at local playgrounds at 8 a.m. and staying until dark. He took a basketball with him everywhere he went, from the grocery store to the Laundromat to school. He tries to think two to three plays ahead, to go left when his defender expects him to go right and vice versa.
“I try to do everything 10 times better,” he said.
Said Huggins, “It makes him want to prove something every day on the court.”
His family drives him, not any physical shortcoming. But because of it, they can’t control themselves at games, yelling at the top of their lungs in the front row. It is why he sometimes won’t tell what time his next game is.
“We stay up late for him to come home,” Caughman said, “to tell us about it.”
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There is danger to him playing basketball. If he gets hit in his good eye a certain way Joyner could lose his vision completely. He wears eyeglasses during the day and prescription goggles on the court. He also still suffers from headaches.
That is why he works so hard – every game, every practice, every shot could be his last. Joyner, who has a 75 average, wants to be the first person from his immediate family to go to college.
“I think,” he said, “I can make it.”
Joyner, feels: ‘Since I don’t have everything I’m supposed to have, it’s going to make me tougher and strive to be better,’” Caughman said. “He’s not letting it get in the way of anything.”