Riley's Rebound: Newman basketball player turns 'different' into an advantage

Riley's Rebound

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - On any given night, here is where you'll find Riley Demps. Doing what he was born to do. Honing his skills on the basketball court, filling the Newman gym with sounds of swish. It's what Demps was seemingly "built" for, even though he wasn't built like everybody else.

I've always thought it's been a part of me and what made me," said Riley. "I don't think I'd be the same person if it wasn't for the circumstances."

The circumstances for Riley have never been a big deal. Being different and especially looking different has never mattered much. Because it hasn't kept him from doing much. Especially when it comes to what he loves to do the most.

"I think it's just a part of the path. And everybody has a different path," said Riley, whose path, from the very start, veered way off course.

"It happened during delivery," said Riley's mom, Anita.

Complications at birth, Riley's shoulders were too large for the birth canal. And when it was time for him to enter the world, there was only one option available.

"Basically pulled him out by the head," said Anita.

And in doing so, Riley suffered irreversible nerve damage to his shoulder.

"We knew immediately in the hospital his arm would not move at all. It laid that limp by his side," Anita said.

Days went by in the hospital and Riley's condition never got better. His arm never fully grew. And that marked the beginning of Riley's road. Growing up knowing that he'll always look different, but he doesn't have accept being different. Sports were Riley's way toward acceptance. Still in diapers, this future sharp-shooter's first love wasn't even basketball. He played football

The kid that looked different - even had to play the game differently - played quarterback until the eighth grade.

"It's dangerous, it's a dangerous sport," said Riley. "I liked it a lot, and when I walk past practice I think I should still be playing. But it's one thing playing in middle school but going to high school level and playing with the 300 pound guys, I was like, I got to chill out."

So that took him to the basketball court where he was welcomed with both open arms and curious stares from his teammates.

"It was definitely strange," said Newman Head Coach James Tillette. "People didn't know how to treat that at a lower level."

"First thing we thought was how is he going to play? How is he gonna be the same on the court as us?" said teammate Meyer Winsberg. "And then you see him play and he doesn't care."

That' attitude comes from growing up in a family that refused to pity him. Riley has two older brothers. Both played basketball. One's currently playing pro ball overseas.

And then there's his dad, Dell Demps, who as the Pelicans general manager is around the game's best players every day. So while football may have been Riley's first crush, it was inevitable that basketball would be his true love.

"It's definitely a trickle effect especially on my dad was in San Antonio. I was at the gym and my two favorite playing for Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli," said Riley.

Winsberg said it's easy to see why Riley's so gifted on the court.

"Basketball is the forefront of all these peoples' lives. They go home. I'm going home to something else. They're going on the more basketball. So it's basketball 100 percent a time, and I think it shows that air because they're totally committed all the time," Winsberg said.

And Riley's commitment to being the best is a process. Not just on the court, but off of it as well. Past surgeries to lengthen and strengthen his arm will eventually lead to more surgeries down the road. But, for now, he's had enough.

"After that third casting I was like, my arm was five to seven degrees from being straight and it's come a little bit back since then. At some point I was like, how much more can five degrees, six degrees help me? I'm here, this is what I am and I don't know how much more five or six or eight degrees is going to help me. I'm just going to rest here and work on the other skills," he said

"For him it's been stages," said father Dell. "He can go behind the back with his right hand something always want to do. Or should write and layup. I remember the first time a shower I had to lay up in a game we were both just crying because he looked up at us any jumping up-and-down."

He's come a long way since, and opponents usually find this out the hard way.

"He plays with a chip on his shoulder," said Winsberg. "You see when people start looking at them on making comments and just round some up even more, and I think that's the only way you can approach it."

Riley sees it as motivation, saying it exhilarates him.

"When I'm on the sideline and I hear moms saying, 'Force him right, force him right, look at his arm, it's broken just force him right,' and I'm just laughing because this is the one I've been working so long for. I'm ready for," Riley said.

But it goes deeper than that. Riley has a fear of letting his teammates down - to the point that every time he gets challenged on the court or even heckled from the stands, he has to prove a point. And most times, he does.

"When somebody guarding me or I'm guarding somebody and I think oh yeah I got them, I just have to make sure they know that they're defeated. I feel like it's my duty to my teammates to make sure that I win my match up. When I think that they have the match-up won, I have to prove them wrong," Riley said.

Riley's a junior on Newman's varsity squad and his goals are simple. He wants to play Division I basketball some day. Some schools have begun to reach out. But, the challenge for him going forward is getting the college coaches to see him how he sees himself.

"So just come watch the game. You come see a game, you'll see that it's almost an advantage," Riley said.

"I'm in the business," Riley's dad added. "Sometimes I think that's gonna be the whole key is if a coach is willing to look at his ability."

Riley's coach agrees.

"He's had a lot of opportunity at high exposure camps with very high competition. So people are making their own judgments about that. I've talked to a number of coaches. Riley's gonna play somewhere in college, I know that. I just am not sure what level he's gonna shake out at."

Whatever level it is, know this: Riley Demps refused to cut corners to reach his goals.

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