A mother, a parent, never stops worrying.
So, long after Marcell Dinsmore moves on to college and continues on his life’s journey, Marcella Miller will still worry about her boy. She is the one who has instilled in her son the belief that anything is possible, but she knows it is Dinsmore who must put that lesson into practice.
“I just thank God that he has all his other talents,” Miller said. “I feel like, for everything you don’t have, there is something brighter behind it.”
What the Milwaukee Reagan senior does have is a 3.6 grade-point average and several colleges in his sights. A fresh dresser, he gets his share of dates and is pretty popular among his peers. A guard for the Juneau/Reagan co-op team, the generously listed 5-foot-7 Dinsmore has become an indispensable player.
What he doesn’t have are fully developed hands on either arm.
His left hand is basically a thumb. His right hand has the index finger, pinkie and thumb. Anyone who has tried to dribble a basketball or follow through on a jump shot understands the importance fingers play in the process.
And yet here is Dinsmore, a two-year starter and captain for the Pioneers.
“My goal is to do whatever it takes to win, and coaching them through it,” he said, referring to his teammates. “This is my senior year, so I want to pass on my leadership to these other guys because I feel leadership is a very important role in basketball.
“But as far as my hands, I don’t really look at it as a disability or a defect because I never got treated that way. … I’ve never stopped. I’ve always been driven to go harder, to push farther.”
Dinsmore has ectrodactyly, or split-hand malformation. But to give a sense of Dinsmore’s priorities, he didn’t even know the name of his defect until last week. And it matters little. “I’ll probably forget in about two weeks, honestly,” he said.
Still, there were difficulties growing up.
Other kids would stare or run away from him. Sometimes, Miller would tell them there was no need to be afraid; other times, she would ask parents to talk to their kids.
“My son is fine,” she’d tell them.
There were ugly interactions.
“Why do you look that way? God made you ugly. You shouldn’t be this way. You’re not like me,” Dinsmore said, recalling some of the insults. “It hurt, but when it came to the basketball court, I felt I was the best.”
Basketball is the game of choice in the Dinsmore family. His cousin Jordan is a standout at Milwaukee Washington. His Uncle Johnnie helped Whitefish Bay win a state title in 1996, and is now an assistant coach at Washington. Trips to see his grandmother, Debra Dinsmore, include a steady diet of NBA League Pass on television.
Dinsmore has been playing ball since he was 2, most of the time with Jordan. The two worked on their games together over the years, and Dinsmore figured out how to handle himself on the court despite not being able to control the ball the way most players can.
“I can’t really do much with my left hand because it’s only a finger, but I don’t let that stop me,” he said. “I really just learn based off of what people do. I look at it and I try it and it works.”
All he needed was a chance to get on the floor.
Dinsmore played freshman ball at Reagan and after the school joined forces with Juneau, he split time as a sophomore between the varsity and junior-varsity teams. Last year, he was a backup guard until the starter suffered an ankle injury midseason.
Pioneers coach Aaron Spiering turned to Dinsmore, and hasn’t been able to keep him off the floor since.
“His biggest hindrance isn’t his disability, it’s the fact that he’s 5 foot 6,” Spiering said. “But he can get into the lane. He can dribble. He can move. He can penetrate like every other guard. He could finish, but he’s too small.”
Dinsmore averaged 5.1 points per game last season, when he had back-to-back double-digit scoring games against Milwaukee Golda Meir and Milwaukee Career Academy and hit 5 three-pointers for 15 points against Milwaukee South in the WIAA tournament.
This year he is averaging 3.7 points for the Pioneers, who were 0-3 entering Friday. The team counts on him most to stick open shots from the perimeter and to pursue relentlessly at the top of the team’s 1-2-2 zone.
Dinsmore believes nothing is out of his reach.
The guy whose mother once worried if he’d be able to do simple tasks like buckle his seat belt or tie his shoes has emerged as a self-sufficient, car-driving teenager who has carved out a niche for himself in a sport that it might seem like he’d have a hard time playing.
Miller probably will always worry about her son, but Dinsmore clearly has a handle on things on and off the court.
“When people see that someone is not quote-unquote normal, they don’t really think of the positives,” he said. “They just think negatives like, ‘I feel bad for him. He can’t do this. He can’t do that.’
“But I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think a birth defect or anything should stop anybody.”