It was early December, and with basketball season heating up, Mesa High sixth man Felipe Velazco was having a difficult time leaving his house.
A 17-year-old kid used to having his hair cut once a week started finding bald patches all over his scalp.
He avoided mirrors. He shaved his head. He wore a hat.
His schoolwork fell off.
“I was really concerned for him,” said Lorenzo Velazco Sr., Felipe’s dad. “In school, he has to take his hat off. Some of the kids bully him because of the hair. I heard sometimes they’d say, ‘When are you going to get your hair cut?’ Little stuff like that.”
Velazco, a 6-foot-6 junior forward, said he was initially diagnosed with alopecia areata caused by stress and anxiety. He would get dizzy spills last season when he played. He has been to dermatologists and heart specialists. Heart tests have come back OK, he said.
A new doctor from Scottsdale seems to have boosted his confidence, telling him the hair will grow back. He has noticed it starting to come in now.
He keeps his head shaved, his Mesa teammates comfort him, and he takes the court for the 21-4 Jackrabbits less contentious.
“Mesa basketball is a family,” said coach Shane Burcar, who calls Velazco the team’s “X factor,” one of the first players to come in off the bench, providing great hustle, defense and rebounds. “He’s come out a lot more comfortable. For a 17-year-old kid, it’s not easy. He’s coping.”
Last season, Velazco played but he said, at time, his vision became blurred and he’d feel dizzy. Medical tests came back negative.
When the hair started falling out in patches, he withdrew at first.
“It was hard,” he said. “But my teammates have accepted me. They’ve been great. Everybody has been helping me get through this.”
Junior guard Christian Harris was the first person he confided in about his hair loss.
“I can tell him anything,” Velazco said.
Harris told him to just play his game.
“It’s nothing different,” Harris said. “You still play the game. You’re still the same person.”
Velazco’s brother, Lorenzo Jr., an assistant coach on the team, who played and graduated from Mesa in 2009, has been a calming influence, as well.
“At first it started with one patch on his scalp,” Lorenzo Jr., said. “As the month went on, the patches increased to different places. It got to the point where it didn’t look right. He said he was just going to shave it off.”
Before a game against Tempe Marcos de Niza,Velazco did so.
“We tell him not to worry about it, that it’s going to take care of itself,” Lorenzo Jr., said. “It must be tough being in high school. You hear a lot things. Some people ask, ‘What’s up with his hair?’ We’ll just say, ‘Oh, he just likes it bald.’”
The elder Velazco said that Felipe has calmed down quite a bit.
“I don’t think about it as much now,” Felipe said. “I just go out and play, try to help us win. My teammates, my coaches, they love me and accept me, and that’s what matters.”