Atholton point guard Steve Lombardozzi Jr. overcame a childhood disability to prove the doctors wrong and lead his team to victory

Born to compete

Basketball

January 10, 2007|By Alejandro Danois | Alejandro Danois,special to the sun

Atholton senior Steve Lombardozzi Jr. excels at running the fast break. The returning All-County point guard augments his accurate long-distance shooting with pinpoint passes.

Possessing exceptional court vision, he pushes the ball up the court in the Raiders' frenetic offensive attack, often surprising teammates with spectacular passes that lead to easy layups.

The fact that he is running at all, much less with the quickness and speed that is essential to Atholton's success, might surprise the physicians who delivered him. That is because Lombardozzi was born with clubbed feet. There were no certainties that he would walk normally, much less run.

An hour after birth, both of his feet were repositioned and placed in casts. When Lombardozzi was 2 months old, he underwent a heel chord procedure in which both of his Achilles tendons were cut, allowing his feet to gain flexibility so orthopedic surgeons could properly place and recast them.

"When he was born, the doctors said that he would never be able to run fast," his mother, Jill Lombardozzi, said.

His parents believed otherwise.

Jill, a former high school basketball standout, and Lombardozzi's father, Steve Sr., then a major league baseball player, painted Nike swooshes on the miniature white casts hugging their infant son's feet.

When he began walking in his casts when he was a year old, Lombardozzi was fitted with corrective shoes, which he wore for another year. As a 2-year-old, he was off and running, always with a ball in his hands. He strengthened his feet by ice skating and, later, by playing Rollerblade hockey.

"He has been drawn to sports and athletics since the day he could walk," Steve Lomardozzi Sr. said. "He would be playing in the hallway, wanting balls rolled towards him so he could catch and pick them up."

These days, Lombardozzi, 5 feet 11 and 175 pounds, does his fair share of distributing the ball and picking up his teammates.

"He does things with the ball that cannot be taught," Atholton coach Jim Albert said. "He is humble, not at all impressed with himself, has an exceptional work ethic, is a great teammate who always has a smile on his face, and people love being around him."

During his freshman year, Lombardozzi was called up from the junior varsity to practice with the varsity team for the Raiders' playoff run.

Although he received scant playing time during Atholton's run to the regional semifinals, the experience proved invaluable.

"It was a great learning experience, practicing with the varsity as a freshman," Lombardozzi said. "The game moved at a much quicker pace, and I was nervous just to go out for warm-ups, but the other players supported me. I realized that I could handle the ball and do the job at that level."

As a sophomore, Lombardozzi received significant playing time as the team's sixth man. In the Raiders' second game against a strong Centenniel squad on the road, Lombardozzi gave the capacity crowd a glimpse of his future production.

In the second half of the tightly contested matchup, he swiped at the ball while guarding his opponent on the wing. With the steal in hand, he attacked the basket, leading a two-on-two fast break. Speedily approaching the foul line, he faked a pass to his running teammate that confounded the defense and easily converted a layup that brought spectators to their feet.

Against rival River Hill in their second meeting that season, with Atholton up by 10 points in the fourth quarter, Lombardozzi was dribbling at the top of the key when a wave of defenders tried to pressure him.

With deft ball-handing, he avoided the first defender before executing a textbook spin move that freed him from another. Spinning into the lane without breaking stride, he banked a one-handed floater off the backboard that fell softly into the net.

During his junior season, Lombardozzi led the Raiders with 13.8 points and four assists per game, leading them to a berth in the regional finals.

"He is an outstanding player who does a little bit of everything on the court, and we are very fortunate to have him," Albert said. "He sees things develop before they actually happen and gets just as excited making a spectacular pass as he does making a three-point shot."

This season, Lombardozzi and Atholton got off to a fast start. In the opening game against Annapolis, he had 21 points, four assists and four steals while shooting 50 percent from beyond the three-point arc, complementing senior forward Torey Fawcett's 31 points and 16 rebounds.

When he was younger, Lombardozzi spent many hours on the practice court with his mother, working on drills and playing one-on-one. They still hit the court together, with Jill rebounding and firing off passes to her son as he works on his shooting.

"Basketball was my sport growing up. It has always been a special bond between the two of us, and it will be very sad for me to see that last game," she said.

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