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Hempstead teen killed by car had big heart -- on basketball court and off

Ka'Juan Polley, 15, was struck by an unlicensed

Ka'Juan Polley, 15, was struck by an unlicensed driver while riding his bike on Sunday, according to his family and friends. Credit: Michelle Cole

Ka'Juan Polley, a 15-year-old basketball powerhouse from Hempstead, had big goals: Attend Duke University and play for the Blue Devils, and afterward, maybe in the NBA.

Polley played guard for his high school team as well as various youth leagues, all while keeping up his grades. His mother recently chided him for earning an A-.

Polley, who would have been a 10th grader this fall at Friends Academy in Locust Valley, died Monday from injuries he sustained in a bicycle accident last week in Hempstead.

"He was the littlest thing out there; he's about my height," said Jennifer Smith, Polley's mother, 40, who said her son was about 5-foot-1. "But he's the strongest thing out there. He has the most heart."

Polley was riding his bicycle south with three friends on Cameron Avenue in Hempstead when he was struck by an unlicensed driver traveling west on Front Street about 8:48 p.m. Saturday, Nassau police said Wednesday.

Polley, who was leaving a basketball game, was transported to Cohen Children's Medical Center at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, where he died, police said.

The driver, whom police did not name and remained on the scene, was issued a summons for driving without a license, police said. The vehicle was impounded for safety checks, police said.

Polley's family said they are awaiting the full results of the police investigation before drawing any conclusions.

"I don't know if it's his [the driver's] fault," Polley's father, Juan Polley, 45, said.

In a message to the school community, Friends Academy's Head of School William Morris said he was "heartbroken" by Polley's passing, calling it "unfathomable and incomprehensible."

"Together, we will find strength to help the Polleys and each other through this tragedy," Morris wrote. "Even as we mourn Ka'Juan's passing, we need to celebrate his life, the smile, joy and energy that he brought to all he did. He was a blessing to our community, a beautiful person who enriched our lives."

At the Polley home Wednesday -- where the wall is adorned with both academic and basketball awards and a bookshelf overflows with the youth's trophies -- his mother, father and an aunt recalled his basketball prowess, his dedication to academics and his role as a mentor to his friends and younger relatives.

His aunt, Michelle Cole, said she encouraged her son -- two years younger than Polley -- to follow his example.

"He was constantly working hard; studying hard," said Cole, of Uniondale. "It was more than just basketball with him."

Polley has an older brother, Jajuan, 17, and a little sister, Jazaira, 5.

"I had him for 15 years; he had a beautiful life," Smith said. "He was a smart boy."

After his death, she looked through his cellphone and found him giving advice to a friend quarreling with their mother. She said her son advised, "You have to keep your head up. You have to listen to your mother."

She said, "When I saw it, I couldn't do anything but cry. . . . Fifteen years, he touched many hearts."

The family is holding a candlelight vigil Friday at 8 p.m. at Lincoln Park in Hempstead in remembrance. Arrangements are still pending.

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