Like any good athlete, Ashir Muhammad has goals.
The 13-year-old, an eighth-grader at Sampson Middle School, has some specific objectives concerning his basketball game, such as improving his ball handling and shooting.
But Ashir also has some lofty ideas about what success should look like.
“I just want to be the best I can be in anything I do,” he said.
Ashir was born without a left hand, the result of amniotic band syndrome. ABS occurs when strands of the amniotic sac tear and wrap around parts of the fetus, sometimes resulting in the underdevelopment or amputation of digits or limbs — in Ashir’s case, his left hand.
Ashir’s condition went undetected during Dana’s pregnancy despite multiple ultrasounds.
“He waved with his right hand (during ultrasounds), but it never showed his left arm,” Dana said. “But once he was born and they told me, the only thing I could think about was, ‘Is he healthy?’ And they said yes, and that’s all that matters.”
Dana, who is the bookkeeper at Sunset Avenue Elementary, and Ashir’s father, Faheem Muhammad, took Ashir’s circumstance in stride and have pushed him to do the same, encouraging him to take on challenges while accepting no excuses.
“I don’t sugarcoat anything,” Dana said. “He just has to learn to do things. He ties his shoes. He does all of it.
“I tell him all the time, ‘You can’t miss what you never had.’ “
You also can’t let it deter you from doing things, according to Faheem, who works as a barber in Roseboro.
“I’ve always encouraged him to do whatever he wanted to do, sportswise,” Faheem said. “Bowling, golf — just try it.”
Ashir played recreation league basketball and football when he was younger, earning team MVP honors as his football team’s running back.
He let football go though when he started middle school to focus on basketball.
“I just love the game in general,” Ashir said. “I grew up watching it.”
Ron Davis, now the boys’ basketball coach at Clinton High School, was the coach at Sampson Middle when Ashir showed up at tryouts last year as a seventh-grader.
Davis admits he had what he calls “preconceived notions” about Ashir’s abilities.
“I’ve got a kid with one arm coming out for basketball, and I didn’t want to put that kid in that situation where he couldn’t play the game as well as everyone else,” Davis said.
Davis didn’t need long to ditch that way of thinking.
“I changed quick because I learned by watching him during the tryouts that he wasn’t concerned about it, and I shouldn’t be concerned about it,” Davis said. “He’s not the one with the issue. We’re learning more from him than he is from us.”
Ashir has started to figure out how to turn what some might think of as a hindrance into an advantage.
“When I’m dribbling, I can put my arm out and they (officials) won’t ever call anything,” he said. “They (defenders) think I’m weak. They try to take it easy on me. They won’t face me.”
When Davis moved to the high school during the offseason, Kenan Lanier took over the Sampson Middle boys’ squad.
Lanier, impressed with Ashir’s skill, work ethic and positive attitude, made him a starter and team captain.
“Coming out here and seeing how hard he works, seeing him putting it all in, going that extra mile, I knew he would be a leader for me,” Lanier said. “Basketball is second nature to him. It’s what he does, and he’s good at it.”
It will be years before it’s clear just how good Ashir will be.
Elite athletes with one hand are rare but not unheard of. Shaquem Griffin, who has no left hand, is a linebacker with the Seattle Seahawks.
Ashir is familiar with Griffin, who, like Ashir, had the development of his left hand hindered by ABS. But Ashir isn’t setting out to shape himself like Griffin, instead hoping to walk his own path.
“Shaquem Griffin, his story is great,” Ashir said. “But I kind of want to make my own story.”