Lake Mead’s Pitman won’t allow deafness to slow him on court

Basketball is a game of sounds.

Distinct noises like the squeak of sneakers on the court, the swish of the net and a point guard calling a play.

Caleb Pitman hears little or, in some cases, none of this. And Lake Mead’s emerging power forward doesn’t view his deafness as a hindrance.

"When you’re shooting free throws, how the crowd gets into it, I can’t really hear them as much," Pitman said. "When I’m shooting free throws, honestly, I can’t really hear. It’s cool to just have the focus on the game more."

Pitman, 16, was born with hearing loss that now is classified between moderate and severe. He has begun studying sign language, in part because he believes his hearing gradually is worsening.

The 6-foot-5-inch junior has worn hearing aids all his life, but he opted as a freshman to play the rest of his career without them. Sweat would make the hearing aids uncomfortable, and it was difficult to keep them in place during games.

That decision has resulted in a player with heightened instincts. Pitman averages 8.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists for Lake Mead (9-10, 4-2), which is chasing a spot in the Class 2A Southern League playoffs.

"As a coach, it’s forced me to create both verbal and nonverbal cues for the game," Eagles coach Jeff Newton said. "We can communicate the offenses and defenses to Caleb in a nonverbal fashion if I’m far away or if there’s a lot of crowd noise. We’ve had to adjust in that sense, which makes us all better."

In pregame meetings between captains and officials, Pitman informs referees of his deafness. He struggles to hear whistles and in the past has continued to play after a call until realizing others on the court have stopped.

Pitman said he can hear about 25 percent of what his teammates hear during games, but he is resourceful.

"What I do, I look at the players, and I can lip read," he said. "I can 95 percent lip read, and it helps a lot."

Pitman’s basketball career is beginning to take off, but he is already a fixture in athletics at Lake Mead, a private Christian school in Henderson.

Pitman is a left-handed pitcher for Lake Mead’s baseball team and probably will play quarterback or receiver when the school starts a football program next fall.

"When your child is born and they tell you something’s not right, you think of all the repercussions of what that could be," said Pitman’s father, Vance. "To see him grow up and be like every other kid and not let it inhibit his ability, we’re super proud."

In addition to parents Vance and Kristie Pitman, Caleb’s support system includes a valuable resource. His brother, Lake Mead freshman forward Elijah Pitman, also played basketball this season with hearing loss before a severe knee injury ended his season.

"I think for Caleb, we have a strong family unit, and Caleb has a strong faith," Vance Pitman said. "His ability to deal with (deafness) is rooted in those two foundations."

Pitman’s friend and co-captain in basketball, junior point guard Justin Yamzon, said Pitman has grown into a leadership role.

"We just hold each other accountable and keep pushing each other," Yamzon said. "Caleb is hearing impaired, but he compensates for that by playing harder, getting stronger and becoming more experienced. I think Caleb’s setting a good example."

Pitman said teammates have helped ease his difficulties on the court.

"They’ve really accepted the way I’ve been, and I enjoy them a whole bunch," Pitman said. "We’ve just really connected to each other, and they help me along with people talking to me, or help me with what to say."

Yamzon, a pure shooter who averages 28.7 points, pairs with Pitman to give the Eagles a budding outside-inside duo. In its second year in 2A, Lake Mead gradually is returning to prominence after winning 1A state titles in 2008 and 2009.

But Newton stressed that "training and molding young people" is more important even than winning games. Which might make the humble and optimistic Pitman a spokesperson for the program.

In addition to its rebounding leader.

"When the boys were diagnosed early, you’re thinking of future father-son stuff, and when you find out there’s a disability, you just don’t know," Vance Pitman said. "But to watch my kid play, if you didn’t know he was hearing impaired, you wouldn’t know any different."

Contact reporter Tristan Aird at taird@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @tristanaird.

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