Basketball player with cerebral palsy brings crowd to feet with buzzer-beating shot
Entire gym cheers as Brian Sefernick enjoys unforgettable moment
FLUSHING, Mich. – Brian Sefernick found some open space in front of him and launched the shot high in the air as a gym full of people sat in anticipation of what was about to happen.
The clock was winding down for Sefernick and the freshmen basketball team at Swartz Creek High School, located in suburban Flint, Michigan, in a game at Flushing High School on Feb. 22.
But Sefernick beat the last buzzer by 10 seconds for what turned out to be the final points of the game, thrilling the crowd.
Sefernick was mobbed by players in celebration on the court as the crowd continued to cheer -- but this wasn’t your typical shot that sends the crowd into a frenzy before the final horn sounds to end the game.
We should mention: It wasn’t a game-winning shot.
Not even close.
Flushing won the game 61-25.
Also, Sefernick was mobbed by the players on the opposing team, which happened to have just sealed a perfect 20-0 regular season.
But that’s not why Flushing’s players were so jubilant as they surrounded Sefernick afterward.
“It was a dream come true for him and for me,” said Diane Sefernick, Brian Sefernick's mother.
Flushing freshmen coach Mark Schilke noticed in warmups before the game that Sefernick had leg braces on.
Sefernick has had cerebral palsy since he was 16 months old, which makes it a challenge for him to run hard for prolonged periods of time.
Upon seeing Sefernick warming up, Schilke had instructions for his team, should Sefernick check into the game at some point.
“I wanted them to know that when that kid comes into the game, we’re going to let him have a chance,” Schilke said. “My kids, they play hard. I would’ve hated for them to steal a ball from him. I just wanted to let them know that when he gets in the game, we’re going to let him have a chance. We’re not going to block his shot or anything like that.”
Late in the game, Schilke saw Sefernick coming to the scorer’s table to check in, but there was one problem: There was just more than a minute remaining, and unless there was a foul or a timeout to stop play, Sefernick wouldn’t get a chance to get in the game.
So Schilke called a timeout, and in came Sefernick.
For the next minute or so of game action, Schilke gave his team advice that coaches almost never hand out to their players: turn the ball over as much as you can.
The intent was to give Sefernick as many chances as possible to score.
“I’m trying to think of the best way to give them the ball back and not make it look ridiculous,” Schilke said. “I told my guys, ‘Throw a lob pass and have it go over everybody’s heads and out of bounds.’”
So Swartz Creek got the ball back, and Sefernick missed a 3-pointer as everyone cheered him on.
His teammates got the rebound, gave him the ball back and he eventually scored his first basket of the season on a layup.
But there was more.
“There’s still 30 seconds left on the clock,” Schilke said. “So I yell out to my point guard, ‘Just travel.’ Bless his heart, he picks up the ball and just walks across the court.”
Eventually, as the clock wound down, Swartz Creek put the ball in Sefernick's hands, and he prepared to take a shot from the wing, behind the 3-point line as players from both teams and everybody in the stands watched intently.
“I practice that shot all the time,” Sefernick said. “It felt good.”
As the crowd roared, Sefernick hustled back to the other side to play defense, but there would be none to play since the final horn had sounded.
At that point, Flushing players charged toward Sefernick to congratulate him and celebrate.
“That was crazy,” Schilke said. “They ran onto the court and off of the bench and they are jumping around him like he was on our team and they won the Super Bowl. That wasn’t something that was scripted by me. That was them being great kids and happy for him.”
Schilke said the reaction from his players is what coaching is all about.
"Anybody that really coaches for the right reasons knows that you want to show these kids the right way to be a competitor, the right way to be a man and the right way to grow up and mature,” Schilke said. “They just like seeing those kids have a chance at success.”
More than a team manager
At the beginning of the season, Swartz Creek freshmen coach Edward Drew had made Sefernick the team’s manager, but that didn’t last long.
Drew officially put Sefernick on the roster just before the third game of the season.
“Brian truly has the spirit of a champion, on and off of the court," Drew said. "He has impeccable work ethic and the heart to be a leader. He cares. He frequently outhustled his teammates, and that is why I stripped the manager title after the third game."
Sefernick attended every single practice all season, something Drew said none of the other team members were able to do.
“The fact that I got to do what I love, even if it was as a manager, the fact I got to be on the team was an honor,” Sefernick said. “I love basketball.”
Sefernick’s love affair with the game of basketball began when he was 8 years old, and he doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges of the constant sprinting up and down the court that the sport requires. But it also highlights his determination.
“I don’t let it stop me,” he said.
Sefernick is a huge fan of Detroit Pistons guard Reggie Jackson -- so much so that Drew said Sefernick is the "president of the Reggie Jackson fan club."
Sefernick hopes to one day meet his idol.
"Brian honestly thinks that Reggie is the GOAT (greatest of all time)," Drew said. "He would dream to meet or speak to Reggie."
The next step for Sefernick is to play on the junior varsity and/or varsity teams during his last three years of high school and then, beyond that, to have a career in sports broadcasting or coaching, if his ambitions of continuing to play don't pan out.
But no matter what happens the rest of his basketball career, it will be hard to experience a moment like he did against Flushing on that fated day.
“Just being a part of something like that, it’s something I’m not going to forget the rest of my life,” he said.
Neither will anyone else who witnessed it.
Graham Media Group 2019