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The City Journals

Junior Jazz player brings everyone together and ‘changes hearts’

Apr 06, 2018 11:10AM ● By Catherine Garrett

Coach Ryan Roberts’ Junior Jazz team poses with their special teammate Sammy Jeanes (No. 3). (Photo courtesy of Ryan Roberts)

When 13-year-old Sammy Jeanes, of Draper, was born with Down syndrome and dealt with a collapsed lung, open-heart surgery and other health issues in his first six months of life, his father, James, felt impressed that his son “would be here to bring people together.” 

“That’s his mission here,” James said. “And that’s exactly what he’s been doing.”

Sammy has been playing Junior Jazz basketball the past two seasons with his older brother Mark and his best friend, Ryan Roberts, who coaches the freshman/sophomore team and is 15-year-old Carson Roberts’ dad. 

“This came about because Coach Roberts has been wanting to get Sammy into games and invited him to be a part of their team,” James said. “He said he didn’t care if the clock was started or if the score was counted, he wanted Sammy to get some time on the court.”

Ryan Roberts said he talks to opposing coaches before each game about Sammy to get everyone on board with Sammy’s presence in the game after halftime. “Everyone just clears out and lets Sammy do his thing,” Roberts said. “He actually shoots really well and usually hits his first shot or two. What happens in that moment is that it takes a competitive game and turns it to what’s most important and allows us all to see that those with differences are just as important as we are. Everyone’s hearts change and coaches and referees will thank me afterwards for letting them be a part of this.”

After Sammy makes a bucket or two, he shows off for the crowd with a “dab” or twirling fake guns and putting them into fake holsters. 

“Sammy is literally a part of our team,” Roberts said. “We do drills and he does his thing. He really thrives on it.”

“I like playing basketball with Mark and my friend, the coach,” Sammy said. 

“This has allowed Sam to open himself up,” James said. “It has been an opportunity to bond with others.”

James said this Junior Jazz experience has always been “wonderful” for him and his wife. “With a special needs kid, you’re always kind of worried that they’ll fit in,” James said, noting that much of the reason he — a native Californian — and his wife — who is from Phoenix — live in Utah is because of the programs and  “heartwarming response” offered among this community. “Sammy loves life and literally everyone and people love him,” James said. “That’s how we all should be.”

Sammy’s teammates on the team also include Andrew Bui, Will Dells, Cinco Lucerto, Tyson Packer, Henry Purser, Matthew Sharp and Luke Tea, and his coaches are Roberts and Roberts’ sons Trevor and Jentzen. 

Coach Roberts said his team has learned to “be inclusive despite where someone is at, who may be facing challenges we don’t face.” 

In other words, Sammy is bringing his Junior Jazz team — and more — together.