Gresham basketball player with autism makes the crowd go crazy

Samuel Long, an eighth grader with autism, brings energy, enthusiasm and a strong work ethic to the Gresham Gladiators and the game of basketball has improved his life.
Gresham Middle School basketball player Samuel Long with head coach Joel Sampsel during warmups at halftime of the Gladiators game against Halls on January 9, 2018.

When Samuel Long drains a three-pointer, the crowd goes crazy.

Chants of "SAM-MY! SAM-MY!" are not uncommon at Gresham Middle School basketball games.

“His first shot, it just swooshed right in, absolutely hysterical,” said Patti Long, Samuel's mother.

That first shot came in the Gladiators scrimmage against CAK.

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“Everyone was screaming, one of my teachers Miss Gray was screaming and my mom was crying a little bit," Samuel Long said.

Sammy's parents adopted him when he was three weeks old and after years of behavioral issues, he was diagnosed with autism as a child.

“It’s been a journey, it was a long few years, but we were able to finally see the light and he has his ups and downs," Patti said.

Playing with the basketball team has helped reduce those down days and bring more calm and joy to Sammy's life.

“It was just like this amazing moment, when he just became a typical middle school kid and you just saw him shine, begin to shine,” Patti said.

When Sammy told his parents he wanted to try out for the basketball team for his eighth grade season, they thought he'd be a manager.

But, coach Joel Sampsel thought differently.

“He did a great job at tryouts and he just had a bond with so many of the boys on the team that I knew right away, he was going to be part of our team," Sampsel said.

Sampsel left Sammy's name off the original posted roster on purpose. He had a special surprise planned.

"I summoned the entire varsity team to my classroom and I had his jersey in my hand and the team went to his classroom and we did a little chant and a little cheer and we presented him with the jersey and told him that he wasn’t going to be a manager, he was going to be a player on the team,” Sampsel said.

Sammy sometimes gets into games when Gresham has a big lead in the fourth quarter. When he does, everyone knows the play - set up Sammy for a deep three-pointer from the wing. He's made several in games, setting off a frenzy in the crowd and on the court.

“I’m in awe that every game, whether he gets to play or not, these boys support him and love him,” Patti Long said.

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“Twenty years from now, these guys are not going to remember the wins and losses," Sampsel said. “They’re going to remember the difference they made in each other’s lives, especially the difference that Sammy made in their lives.”