Juandez 'Dez' Scruggs shines on court despite his inability to see

CINCINNATI -- Much like most high school basketball players, Juandez “Dez” Scruggs has a pretty good idea what he can and can’t do on the court.

Some kids know they can’t jump that high, while others have come to terms they can’t shoot the ball with any consistency from behind the 3-point line.

But Scruggs, a Hughes High School senior, has his own struggles that separate him from your average player: The 5-foot-10 forward can’t see – at least not all that well.

“I can see you (a little but you're) like a dot,” is the way the swingman describes to others what it’s like to live with his impairment, Leber optic atrophy.

The disorder causes a degeneration of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) and their axons, leading to an acute or subacute loss of central vision.

He was diagnosed with the degenerative disorder when he was in the eighth grade, around the same age many of the people afflicted by it are diagnosed. It predominantly affects young adult males and runs in Scruggs’ family, he said.

Scruggs said he was heartbroken when he first learned of his diagnosis because he didn’t know if he’d be able to play basketball again.

But Hughes head coach Bryan Wyant reassured him there’d always be a place for him on his team.

“Coach Wyant gave me the opportunity of my life,” the teenager said.

The leader of the Hughes squad said he considered the ramifications of having a sightless player on his team, but in the end he felt it was important to give Scruggs a chance because “there wasn’t anything else” for him.

So for the last four years Scruggs has defended, rebounded and even shot baskets for the Big Red. And he’s done a pretty good job along the way, helping his team to an 11-4 record this season, including a league-best 7-2 mark in the Cincinnati Metro Athletic Conference. 

Wyant picks his spots to play and his coaches call out his name on offense to telegraph passes. But where he shines is on the defensive end, where he's described as a rugged defender and a great leader.

"He works harder than anyone out there," his coach said.

Wyant said there’s a good chance that many fans and even some of his opponents aren't aware of Scruggs’ disability.

Scruggs wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I want to be what you want to be,” he said. “I just want to play basketball.”

Web editor Casey Weldon contributed to this report.

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