Hard road to the hardwood for Glen Cove teen
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The sound of gunshots fired outside his Bronx apartment one July night in 2008 awoke Kewan Beebe. He rushed to the window and peeked through the curtain. It was just after 1:30 a.m. Another shot was fired.
Beebe felt no pain. It wasn't until he got a tingling in his stomach and noticed his hand covered in blood that he realized he was wounded — the stray bullet had struck the 14-year-old in the lower abdomen. Beebe was rushed to the hospital, where he underwent the first of multiple surgeries.
"I thought I was going to die," he said. "The only thing that kept me alive was basketball."
A defining moment
A chorus of "MVP" chants rained down from the stands at Glen Cove High School a year ago as Beebe stood at the free-throw line.
Just minutes earlier, it had seemed that the most successful season in decades for the Big Red boys' basketball team was nearing its end. Glen Cove was playing Floral Park in the first round of the Nassau Class A playoffs and trailed by 10 points with six minutes remaining.
But Beebe was about to give his team the very thing he had recently received: a second chance at life.
"He gives these guys the feeling they can win every game," said the team's coach, Peter Falen. "He's brought life to this program."
In short order, Beebe nailed a straightaway three-pointer. He weaved through traffic in the paint for the layup. He followed up with a steal, and went coast-to-coast for the bucket and the foul to convert a three-point play. And that's not all. He calmly drained two free throws with just seconds remaining — and those "MVP" chants echoing in the background — to seal the comeback.
Beebe scored 10 of his 26 points in the final few minutes to lift Glen Cove to a thrilling 57-54 win.
For Beebe, who is now a senior, it was the defining moment of his two seasons with Glen Cove. He led the Big Red to its first conference championship in 22 years (the team lost to Jericho in the quarterfinals) and was named All-County and Conference A-III Player of the Year.
It was also a step toward the dream he is chasing — to play college basketball.
But during his pursuit, Beebe has encountered many obstacles. Being shot that summer night wasn't the first or the last, but it was a journey that brought him into the hearts and home of Carla and Frank D'Ambra.
The time — 7:44 p.m. -- on March 23, 2007, is embedded in Beebe's mind. A doctor pulled him, his two older brothers and an older sister aside to tell them that their mother had passed away.
"I thought, to be honest, my life was over," recalled Beebe, who was 13 then and said his mother had been ill for some time. "I really didn't have a reason to live. She was my everything."
While growing up, Beebe and his siblings bounced around the South Bronx with their mother.
"There was a lot of gangs and drugs," Beebe recalled. "Basketball was the only thing you could look forward to coming outside for every day."
Beebe said an aunt was named guardian and moved into the family's Bronx apartment after his mother's death. Just 16 months later, an altercation involving his family outside their apartment building turned violent, ending in Beebe's bullet wound. Medical records show he suffered multiple inter-abdominal puncture wounds. In the surgeries that followed, Beebe underwent a colostomy, had part of his large intestine removed, had the bullet taken out and then had the colostomy reversed.
He described the periods between his operations as "the worst time of my life" because he felt his basketball hopes were in jeopardy. He said he would lie in his bed and synchronize the rhythm of the monitors to the sound of a bouncing ball as he envisioned himself driving past a defender. When Beebe finally fully recovered five months after being shot, his sister, Vanessa Huggins, said the first thing he did was pick up a basketball.
"When my mom passed away, the last thing he promised her was that he was going to do good in school and continue to play basketball," said Huggins, 24, of the Bronx. "So once he got shot, his mentality was, 'I have a second chance at life, I'm going to chase my dream.' From then on, that's what he has done every single day."
During Beebe's recovery, his aunt moved the family to Hampton, Va., where he would live for the next three years. There were times, he said, that they went without food, electricity and supervision.
"Every day I kept asking, 'Why me? Why is all of this happening to me?' " Beebe said. "I thought I did something wrong."
Finding his family
The lone constant in his life was basketball.
Beebe started playing organized basketball for the first time with an Amateur Athletic Union team in Virginia during the summer of 2009. He began to refine his game, developing a jump shot and improving his ball handling.
Two years later, he began making trips to Glen Cove to stay with friends. He played at Island Garden, a basketball facility in West Hempstead, and attended St. John's basketball camp. Through his friend and former Glen Cove High teammate, Yadiyah Letellier, Beebe was introduced to the D'Ambras, a Glen Cove couple that Letellier knew through the Boys and Girls Club.
Carla D'Ambra, who is on the nonprofit's board of directors, became somewhat of a basketball mom to Beebe, and the two quickly established a bond.
Just a few months shy of his 18th birthday, Beebe said his aunt called to inform him that she had moved once again and that his belongings were in storage. With Beebe essentially homeless, the D'Ambras invited him to live with them.
"Knowing Kewan's story really put us in the right frame of mind to try and help him out because, really, he had no one," said Frank D'Ambra, who is chief executive of a freight forwarding company. "We thought it would be a good thing to do to give him a chance to get through things so he could have a chance at success."
Beebe moved in with the D'Ambras in August 2011, and the couple enrolled him at Glen Cove High, where he overcame fluctuating grades to become an honor roll student.
"He was a 17-year-old boy who had lived three lifetimes already with all he'd been through," said Carla D'Ambra, whom Beebe calls 'Mom.'
The couple — who have no children together, although Frank has two daughters from a previous marriage — describe Beebe as quiet but funny, and mature but a big kid at heart clinging to a childhood that he was robbed of. Even at 19, Beebe's favorite television show is "SpongeBob Square Pants."
"Everywhere he goes, it's like he tugs on people's hearts," said Carla D'Ambra. "He has this aura of kindness about him. I wanted to help him. Now, I can't even imagine life without Kewan Beebe."
'That was the turning point'
In the D'Ambras' three-bedroom Victorian, Beebe has his own bedroom for the first time in his life. In the fall, he will attend SUNY-New Paltz, becoming the first male in his family to go to college, his sister said.
"It's so amazing to see where we came from and now where he's trying to go," Huggins said. "A lot of people like us, we don't really make it. But he has followed his dream, and it's unbelievable that he's really doing it."
It may seem that the D'Ambras gave Beebe a second chance at life, but the way he sees it, they gave him a first chance.
"I'd probably be dead on the streets or in jail if it wasn't for them," Beebe said. "That was the turning point of my life."
There is no trace of his past hardships when Beebe is on the court. In his last season at Glen Cove, he averaged 16.3 points per game and led the Big Red back to the playoffs. Though his road to Glen Cove wasn't nearly as smooth as his jump shot, through it all, the game has motivated Beebe to persevere.
"I'm living today because of basketball," he said. "It changes my life every single day."