VIDEO: Deserving Local Athlete Joins Rubio, Shved at NBA All-Star Weekend
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21-year-old Nick Van Denburgh gets a lot of compliments on his basketball skills.
"People will say, 'Wow, he can jump... Wow, he has legs - he's fast'," Van Denburgh says. "
Nick put those skills on a videotaped entry submitted to the NBA, which resulted in an invitation to be part of the league's All-Star weekend in Houston.
"I'll be really nervous," Nick admits. " I'll soak it in, just try to have fun... and try to show the world there's more than just being a Special Olympian."
Van Den Burgh was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He was home-schooled and raised by adopted parents along with seven adopted siblings in Oak Grove.
He's grown into a six-sport athlete who was last year's "Special Olympics Minnesota Male Athlete of the Year".
He's also become spokesperson for the Special Olympics. Trained as a "Global Messenger", Van Denburgh travels to spread news of what the organization offers.
"Nick's courageous," says Michael Kane - Special Olympics Minnesota's Vice President of Area Programs and Initiatives. "He's come a long way. He was really a quiet guy a few years ago - and the success on the court has really translated into his social life and career life. He's a true ambassador for our athletes with intellectual disabilities."
As part of the run-up to Nick's trip to Houston, he spent an evening as a guest of the Timberwolves - who are sponsoring Nick's participation in All-Star Weekend.
Nick and some of his family members watched the Wolves play against Utah from a suite. Before the game, he was invited on the Target Center court for a pre-game shootaround, where Wolves assistant coach Shawn Respert pushed him through some drills.
The drills should help Nick be ready for his game in Houston. He and eleven other Special Olympians from around the world will play in the "NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Sports Basketball Game" just prior to the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday.
Van Denburgh and the other participants in the Unified Game will play alongside NBA legends such as Chris Mullin, Detlef Schrempf and Dikembe Mutombo.
"We're gonna play in the Unified Game, watch the rookie/sophomore game (Rising Stars Challenge), the dunk contest, the All-Star Game. We're gonna do a lot of different stuff there," Nick says.
"It's life changing," Kane says. "One event like this can open your eyes to 'what I can do'... 'look at the opportunities'."
While Nick says the main focus of his weekend trip is playing well in the Unified Game, he does plan on doing a little star-gazing."
"My favorite player is Dwayne Wade," he says. "I like him because he's a team player - reminds me of myself."
Reminded he might run into D-Wade on the court this weekend in Houston, Nick smiles.
"If I meet him, I have no idea what Ill do."
Nick plays in the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Sports Basketball Game at 2:00 p.m. Sunday, just prior to the NBA All-Star Game at the Toyota Center in Houston.