In the waning seconds of Vista High boy’s basketball game on Feb. 8 against Oceanside, Nicky Longo stood under the basket, unguarded.
It was his moment.
His teammate, senior guard Michael Flynn, spots him open and throws him the ball. Longo caught the ball and deftly shot it off of the glass, and the ball swished through the net.
What happened next, was sheer ecstasy.
Both Vista and Oceanside’s crowds erupted in applause. His teammates jumped off of the bench, some with tears streaming from their eyes.
His coaches cheered as loud as some of the players.
The moment was captured on multiple videos, and became viral on the internet.
It was Nicky’s first basket.
But, why was this basket more special than others?
For that, you need to know some things about Nicky, the 18-year-old heart and soul of the Vista High Panthers basketball team.
He loves long pants and airports. His Instagram account will tell you as much.
“I just love wearing long pants because they are comfortable and I like airports because they have so much to do,” Nicky explains.
He loves his friends and they love him equally in return.
He is popular at school, active in the Associated Student Body club and known for his warm heart and big smile.
But his greatest love, perhaps, is Vista Basketball.
Longo, 18, grew up playing basketball in Vista’s recreation ranks and watched his older brother, Sean, play for the Panthers.
But basketball hasn’t come easy to Nicky. He has a disability that takes him longer to process movement, actions and other activities.
This disability makes him slower than his peers at just about everything.
But he’s never let his disability deter him. His mother, his coaches and his teammates can attest to this.
“For four years he has showed up to every single basketball thing, he’s fundraised and he’s done everything we do,” said Taurus Samuels, a junior at Vista and captain of the team. “If you say you love the game, I bet you don’t love it as much as he does.”
Cathy Longo, Nicky’s mom, said that Vista basketball has meant everything to her son. She worried, however, that as a senior, Nicky, who was on the junior varsity team as a junior, might not make the team.
However, Vista Head Coach Anthony Bolton, who is in his first year coaching his alma mater, quickly put those fears to rest.
“He said, ‘Cathy, he is on my team,’” Cathy said. “I know it would have been pretty devastating for him had he not made the team. For him, he just wants to be a part of the team. He knows he isn’t going to play much, he just wants to be there, so it was a huge deal for him.”
Bolton said that Nicky’s journey has been inspiring. Despite his disabilities, he’s never missed a practice and has performed all the tasks his teammates have done. This included during the fall, when the team was preparing for the season, each player had to run five miles by the end of the conditioning season.
Bolton said his goal for Nicky was for him never to walk through his run.
And he didn’t, Bolton said.
“He fulfilled that and then some in my opinion,” Bolton said.
With Nicky now on the varsity, Bolton said he wanted to give him an opportunity to score a basket before the season was over. It was important to the team. It was important to him. It was important to the school’s tight-knit community.
Most importantly, it was important to Nicky.
This wouldn’t be the first basket Nicky has ever scored. Two years ago, during a fall-league game at Canyon Crest Academy, Nicky scored in the final seconds of a blowout against Mission Vista’s junior varsity team.
“But scoring in the regular season, it’s official, it’s real,” Bolton said. “Summer and fall ball, it just isn’t the same as being in the official books. He will always and forever be in our official books as being a Vista basketball player who scored.”
So Bolton and the coaching staff looked for chances to get Nicky a score. Each time, the clock expired without Nicky scoring a basket.
Though, in one of the previous efforts — in a win over Rancho Buena Vista — Cathy said it was then she realized how much her son meant to everyone, as the crowd erupted when he checked in the game.
“I was in tears, going, ‘Wow, my son means so much to everyone,’” Cathy said. “As a mother, it was a cool thing to see all the kids and parents cheering for my kid and his teammates.”
That, as it turns out, was just the prelude.
Going back to the Feb. 8 game, Vista was in the midst of blowing out Oceanside by more than 40 points when Bolton summoned Nicky and several of the seldom-used players into the game.
Nicky had an initial shot at a basket and missed.
Then, with about 10 seconds left in the game, Bolton told his team not to score, as he didn’t want to be seen as running up the score on the Pirates.
But, as it turns out, some of the Pirates faithful understood the magnitude of the moment. They stopped playing hard defense, creating an opening for the pass from Flynn to Nicky.
“Oceanside was all for it, and to their credit and the credit of their fans, they were great sports about everything,” Bolton said.
Nicky caught the pass. He shot the basket. And he scored.
“I felt really happy and excited,” Nicky said.
“If you had seen me, I was crying like a big, fat baby,” Cathy said. “I have to tell you, it was all overwhelming.”
In the aftermath, Nicky has been the center of attention on campus. Television networks have reached out for interviews. Students high five him and congratulate him on the moment.
“It’s really surprising,” Nicky said. “I just scored a basket.”
But to everyone else, it was much more.