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June 1, 2004

Hoop dream now a reality

From: Tallahassee Democrat, FL - Jun 1, 2004

Column by St. Clair Murraine

Donte Mickens always wanted to be a stellar basketball player. But at 6-feet-2 and with no exposure, he knew a long time ago that it was just a dream.

He dreamed anyway. He played a lot in high school, too. College scouts were interested. They didn't know - the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind just isn't the place scouts would go to look for potential star athletes.

Mickens has been legally blind since birth. His visual impairment is caused by ocular albinism, a genetic pigment disorder that's often accompanied by blindness.

Mickens became a better-than-average basketball player, though. That's why when Mickens told his high school coach that he was blind, the coach couldn't believe him. The kid always found the hole with the same accuracy as his peers who had good vision.

Mickens high school playing days have been done for more than four years now, but a few weeks ago he was assured of a ticket to represent the United States in the Summer Games.

He'll be in the Paralympics as a player on the goalball team in Greece. The game is similar to basketball, although the players wear blindfolds and they use a ball with four bells inside of it to track the movements.

Mickens, 23, has been at it for three years with a Tallahassee club.

"I've always been very competitive, and goalball is just another avenue for me to explore that competitive edge," he said.

The goalball floor is one place where Mickens finds serenity. On the goalball floor, no one stares because they don't know whether he's black or white - he's a black man whose pigmentation causes folks to sometimes take a second look.

He'd been used to it since he was in middle school in West Palm Beach, where he grew up. He finished high school in St. Augustine and four years ago came to Florida State, where he is preparing for graduate studies in business.

He still gets the look, which he has learned to ignore.

"To me," he said, "that seems to be the best course of action. It's worked well."

He isn't troubled by blindness either, although he sometimes wishes he could see well enough to drive himself. His vision is actually 20-200, meaning an object he can see from 20 feet away can be seen by a person with normal vision from 200 feet away.

"I don't notice the impairment as most people might if they were placed in my situation," he said. "But there's been some times that it became cumbersome. It's nothing that's significant to me."

Not as much as goalball anyway. It's been his frequent-flyer card.

He's traveled to foreign countries and several states to compete. Recently he went to a team testing, where his team performed well enough to win a gold medal.

That only made him more eager to get to Greece.

"We were on the podium to get our gold medal (and) that was a real proud moment," he said. "It felt real good to hear the U.S. anthem play during the award ceremony.

"It (the Paralympics) is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Very few people get a chance, so I'm going to make the most of it and cherish it."

Contact St. Clair Murraine at (850) 599-2317 or

© 2004 Tallahassee Democrat and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.