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Cole Keating

It’s “mamba mentality,” Cole Keating, an 11th grader at Comsewogue High School said.

Cole, who just turned 17, is on the autism spectrum. High functioning, his mom Lea Keating said that Cole might be different, but that doesn’t mean he’s not less.

The high school junior, who idolizes stars like the late Kobe Bryant and is a fan of the Knicks, always wanted to be on a team. He simply wanted to play. It was Bryant who once said mamba mentality means to be able to constantly try to be the best version of yourself.

Ever since he was little, Cole said, he loved sports — especially basketball because of his height. “I’d play with my Little Tikes basketball hoop,” he said. “I wasn’t very good — not like what I am now.”

People who are on the autism spectrum often have special interests that they become passionate about. Cole has always been into sports. Lea said that ever since he was little, he would memorize players scores and rankings. He’d watch any game he could find on TV. Funny enough, she said neither she or her husband are big sports fans. But they do have one that they cheered on every week this past season: Cole — No. 40 on the court.

Since middle school — seventh grade to be exact — all Cole wanted to do was get onto the junior varsity team. However, he never made the cut. He eventually joined an off-campus travel league two years ago created by Glen Santoro and that’s where he began to excel, learn the ropes and get out of his comfort zone. 

“Cole unfortunately didn’t make the team a couple of times in the school district and his mom said to me that he was looking for a place to play,” Santoro said.

Since it was a travel team, he told Lea and Cole, “It was going to be very intense, a lot of running and yelling,” and added, “But I was so blown away by how prepared and how serious he was … and how much he wanted to improve.”

Cole’s mom explained that, “Sports always calmed Cole down. His social skills come into play on the basketball court.” He would practice after each game, taking critiques and working hard to get it just right. “Even the little things that I yelled out during the game, he took seriously and wanted to work on,” Santoro said.

Fast forward to now.

The athlete towers at 6 feet, 3 inches tall over his teammates as he shoots and every so often scores. “He knows how to use his body well,” Santoro said. 

“He’s smart, he knows what to do and he knows his role. By using all that, he was finally able to make the school team.”

It wasn’t easy, said Comsewogue JV basketball coach Noah Buffins. “The first few rounds of tryouts, I cut him,” he said. “But what makes this story great is that he won’t stop.”

After growing and learning from Santoro and that travel team, Cole finally gained the confidence to try out one more time for the Warriors.

“I think Cole is able to show coach what he’s learned over the last couple years — what he’s learned, how he’s grown and what a great player he has become and he helped us win games over the years,” Santoro said. “He really listened.”

And in the fall of 2021, Cole tried out. Lea received a text that read just three little words, “I did it.” He followed it with, “It’s about time.” Lea screenshot the message and sent it to everyone.

“Our second game of the year was a very big game, Longwood,” Buffins said. “We put him in the game and we win the game … I was blown away. You can tell he’s got so much passion and so much love for it that nobody’s going to stop him.”

Buffins said that he is happy he was able to share these memories with Cole over the season: “That’s what it’s about … making memories.”

And the memories are great ones. 

Lea said that Cole had his first actual birthday party with his teammates, who have become his friends, just last month. The guys took him to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner and hung out together to celebrate the big 17.

“A lot of times when you’re on the autism spectrum, you think about yourself a lot and it’s hard to get outside of yourself,” she said. “So, for him to have the opportunity to have genuine real friends and to support his team, basketball has taught him all these life lessons that we’ve always tried to teach him.”

So, what’s next for this superstar? He’s gearing up to try out for the varsity team next year. The ultimate goal is when he gets to college to play for a D1 team, too.

Mamba mentality — he’s making Kobe proud.