LYNDHURST, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – A local high school senior with autism takes his shot, and recently his hoops dream came true.
When the Lyndhurst High School varsity basketball team plays, 18-year-old AJ Leone is courtside, with water ready.
“Every time my teammate comes to sit in the bench there I hydrate them,” AJ said.
The team also helps AJ work on his game. They say he’s the hardest worker on the team.
“He’s just very dedicated. You know, we’ll have 8 a.m. practice and he’ll be the first one there,” said his friend Brandon Stuart.
So on Tuesday night, when the team was way ahead, the coach put AJ in the game. With just minutes on the clock, they kept passing him the ball, giving him a chance to score. Even the opposing team gave him the ball. After several attempts, the 3 pointer landed.
Seconds later, when the game was over, everyone ran and chanted for AJ.
“I kind of felt like Kobe was in when I shot that,” AJ said.
“Because Kobe Bryant is your inspiration,” said CBS2’s Cindy Hsu.
“I felt like he was watching me from above,” AJ said.
He even threw up his hands showing a two and four for Kobe’s number 24.
It was the first time he’d ever played in a game.
“When I got on there it was like the best moment of my life,” AJ said.
But he also loves football, and manages the school’s varsity team. They just won the state championship.
“He cares. That’s the biggest thing is that he cares. He’s not worried about judgement. He’s worried about one thing, and that’s doing what he’s got to do for his players and his coach and his team,” said Rich Tuero, Lyndhurst High School football coach.
AJ says autism has not slowed him down a bit. He’s on the honor roll and was this year’s homecoming king. No surprise to anyone, Hsu reported. His teammates all said they voted for him.
He has this advice for anyone who’s looking to succeed.
“Always work hard no matter what the situation is,” AJ said. “You can get there one day. Not overnight, not in a week, but it takes time.”
“But you did it!” Hsu said.
“Yeah,” said AJ.
It’s a moment no one will ever forget.