It’s an age-old axiom in basketball that you can’t coach height.

You can’t coach heart either.

On Wednesday, University of Alaska Anchorage men’s basketball head coach Rusty Osborne announced one of its biggest signings of the season — inking 5-year-old James Ludwig, a special needs youngster from Eagle River.

"He's going to have a positive impact on our season," said Osborne. 

Partnering with TEAM impact, a Boston-based non-profit organization the Seawolves made James their top recruit complete with a signing ceremony in the interview room at Alaska Airlines Center. On a dais featuring James, his mother Michelle, Osborne, and athletics director Greg Myford, James was introduced as the newest Seawolf.

As a special needs child, James was a candidate for the program. He's been diagnosed with epilepsy. 

"James has attachment issues, a hard time with his peers, making friendships. He has behavior, some aggression at home," said his mother Michelle. 

TEAM’s mission is to identify children battling serious and chronic illnesses and match them up with college teams across the country. The goal is to improve their quality of life by welcoming them into their program. Along with Michele, his brother, sister and service dog Blitzen, (dad was at work), it was a day for them to enjoy. And knowing that someone cares means everything to a family which experiences some expected bumps.

"It gives me hopes in a way," said Michelle. "A lot of people don't understand our circumstances. We get looks from around the public if James is having a hard time. So people who are willing to take us on and learn about James and seeing there's a lot of different individuals out there with different abilities." 

In the past seven years, more than 500 schools have rolled out the red carpet and “recruiting and signing” nearly 1,600 youngsters but James is the first from Alaska. The process took almost five months.

James will play his role as an official member of the program as he attends practices, games, team dinners and various functions officially for the next two years. But Osborne says he'll be with the program for many years. 

Now armed with their not-so-secret weapon, the Seawolves open up the 2018-2019 campaign with an exhibition game against Antelope Valley Friday, Nov. 2.  After road contests in Fresno and Honolulu, UAA returns home for the Seawolf Jamboree November 16th matching up with Northwood of Michigan.

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