Former Elkins High School basketball player Lucas Bragg wanted nothing more than to be like the rest of his teammates.
He yearned to be able to run as hard, and long, as his peers on the hardwood, and dreamed of someday playing at the collegiate level.
Because of being born with a heart defect, Bragg could only fantasize about being like his peers.
But Bragg has one thing that many other players don't - a fighting mentality - something every coach looks for in a student. It wasn't a trait he was taught, but an instinct he learned in order to just survive at an early age.
At just 2 days old, Bragg had his first heart surgery. One day later, he had another. His third and final surgery finally came at the age of 2 1/2.
That's when his parents, Keith and Beth, began to see a change in the toddler.
"The first two surgeries were hard. The second one was actually so bad that they had to bring the operating room to his bed in the hospital," Beth said. "It was really hard on him, and then it went on a couple of years before his next one. After the last one we really started seeing a difference in him, though. He started running around and doing all the things 2 1/2-year-old children do."
Bragg's new found energy and ability to do active things was somewhat of a shock to his parents because she was told by doctors that he would always be sick and unable to do things other children could do.
"We decided we weren't going to hold him back from doing what he wanted," his mother said. "We weren't going to put him in danger, but we weren't going to keep him from doing the things other kids were doing."
Like most youngsters, Bragg's athletic endeavours began on the t-ball field, where he seemed to be able to keep up well with other children. After competing in youth sports in Sutton and Lewisburg for several years, the family moved to Elkins when Bragg was in seventh grade. After arriving at their new home, Bragg decided to up the stakes and tryout for the basketball team at Elkins Middle, which at first, his mother was a little wary of.
"The doctors always told us they didn't know what he'd be able to do sports wise, mostly because he gets winded very easily" she said. "His tricuspid valve is only 60 percent the size it should be and it's the one that carries oxygen from his heart to his lungs. So we really didn't know how much he could do on the basketball court."
Two middle school and four high school basketball seasons later, Bragg proved that he could do what every other player could, despite being slowed by his condition. Although he couldn't go in long intervals like his teammates, when he took to the floor he always gave everything he had.
"Lucas always gave me 110 percent on and off the floor," former Elkins coach Roy Simms said. "He was a very consistent player. He knew what his job was and went out and did it."
Although Bragg had accomplished what many thought he could never do, he still had a lot of "what ifs" running through his head, and most of all still dreamed of competing at the collegiate level.
Realizing he would possibly never be close to the game he loved again, Bragg excepted that his basketball days were numbered and registered for classes at West Virginia University.
Soon after enrolling at WVU, he received some news that in his words "was the next best thing to playing" when he was selected to be one of 12 student managers for the Mountaineer basketball team.
"Lucas was a team captain who always showed great responsibility and leadership, and that's why I had no problem recommending him for the job at WVU," Simms said. "I was more than happy to do it and I'm very happy he got it."
With his duties, he will attend all West Virginia basketball practices and home games. He also may get to travel with the team as well. Being a fan of all WVU?sports, it was a dream come true for more reasons than one for Bragg.
"It's real exciting, I love basketball and I love WVU," he said. "I didn't want to be away from the game, but I knew my playing days were over. This is definitely the next best thing to playing. I couldn't be any happier and want to thank coach Simms for the recommendation."
Bragg said that during practices he will be helping out with player drills, getting water for Mountaineer cagers and other assignments that go along with practice sessions.
During game days, each student manager is assigned different duties. He said some managers may be sitting with the team on the bench, while others may be placed in different spots in the Coliseum.
"It's going to be fun," Bragg said. "Being around all the players and getting to know them is going to be something special. I was brought up a West Virginia fan, and now I'm going to be spending time with these players all the time - it's really exciting."
Bragg, who will major in sports management at WVU, now has the shoe on the other foot so to speak. Because those same teammates he sat with on the bench and wished he could go as hard as, will be sitting in the stands at the Coliseum while he's perched along side Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins.