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Golden View Classical Academy basketball player receives Naismith Award for his courage

High school basketball player who was adopted discusses challenges faced until he met the game
High school basketball player who was adopted discusses challenges faced until he met the game 02:13

John MinZheng  Wahlers says he has everything he wants.

"I have food, I have friends, I have family members. I have basketball," he said.

That is a long way from where he started. "MZ," as he's known, was born in China.

"Life in China was a little rough," he expressed. "I was born without a cleft palate. So I couldn't eat or drink anything."

courtesy of Naismith Awards

MZ was abandoned by his biological parents, but when he was 8 years old, Beth and Pete Wahlers adopted him and he was flown to Colorado.

"I had no idea where I was and I didn't even know who I was with," MZ said.

Once here, MZ had five surgeries and he eventually was able to live a normal American life. That is until 5th grade.

"My dad and my brothers introduced me to basketball," MZ said.

He immediately came down with a case of "round ball fever". Every time he played basketball he fell more in love.

"I love the intensity of the sport," he said.


MZ met his best friend Jakob Gonzales freshman year of high school. 

"I thought I was the best and then he came along," Gonzales said.   

They wanted to start a basketball team at Golden View Classical Academy, but it wasn't going to be easy.

"I walked in... there's a half-court gym was in place. I was like, 'oh, what am I what am I doing,'" MZ said.

The team started off badly. Sometimes losing games by 30 points, but they never gave up and by their senior year they made the playoffs.

"We stuck together we've gone through we went through the hard times. And to see that finally that we built something we can give back to the school and that it finally paid off was something that's really special," Gonzales said.

On top of that, MZ won Jersey Mike's Naismith High School Basketball Courage Award for overcoming incredible odds to excel in the game. He says it's a shock.

"I'm speechless," he expressed.

But, Jakob isn't as surprised.

"Sometimes you just see on the outside, but you don't see someone who has to fight for their life, and who can do anything," Gonzales said.

The season is now over, but MZ says basketball has taught him lessons he can carry with him for the rest of his life.

"To be more courageous about things. So when life gets challenging, just keep up keep pushing, not give up," MZ said.

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