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On the brink: The inspirational story of Dante Moultrie

Fri, Feb 16th 2018 02:40 pm
North Tonawanda 10th grade guard Dante Moultrie dribbles behind his back in a recent game versus Grand Island. (Photo by David Yarger)
North Tonawanda 10th grade guard Dante Moultrie dribbles behind his back in a recent game versus Grand Island. (Photo by David Yarger)
Tenth grade starting point guard at NTHS almost lost life in 2016
By David Yarger
Tribune Editor
The 2017-18 North Tonawanda Lumberjacks boys basketball team came into this year off one of their best seasons in program history. Coming off a sectional title, there were some unknowns as to how the team would perform this season. New faces surrounded the varsity squad, including 10th-grader Dante Moultrie.
Moultrie is the starting point guard for the team; a great accomplishment for a 10th-grader.
Moultrie has a love for the game of basketball and enjoys every second playing with the Lumberjacks squad, but late in 2016 that love was nearly taken from him.
Early in last year's season, the Lumberjacks JV team had a scrimmage in Clarence. According to JV coach Rob Keohane and varsity coach Ryan Mountain, Moultrie had a tremendous scrimmage.
Shortly after, though, Moultrie became ill with what everyone thought was the flu.
Keohane said, "Right around Thanksgiving time he called me saying he had the flu and I said, 'OK, get better. We'll see you after Thanksgiving.' Well then his father texted me saying, 'Please pray for him. He's in serious condition.' "
A couple of days after the scrimmage, Moultrie was in the hospital in an intensive care unit, clinging to life. Basketball was no longer a priority.
"I was on life support. I mean they were about to cut the plug on me. I was about to lose my legs; I couldn't walk anymore," Moultrie said.
A bacterial infection that ended up with MRSA, a bacterium that causes infections in different parts of the body, along with a staph infection that led to septic shock was what took over Moultrie's body.
Mountain said he and Keohane visited Moultrie in the hospital and that the situation was not pleasant.
"His parents filled us in that things were not good and the hospital staff was extremely concerned with keeping him stable," Mountain said.
Time went by and Moultrie awoke from a coma, but the next few months brought difficult times for the 10th-grader. Moultrie had to relearn normal life functions that most people would take for granted. Out of everything though, Moultrie set his recovery with one goal: get back on the court to play with his team.
"One of the hardest tasks for me, overall, was learning how to walk again," Moultrie said. "When I was in the hospital I lost all my muscle; I couldn't move. So when I got back home I couldn't walk. So, working back to one goal and one goal only was to play on the team with coach Mountain and the rest of my friends and be back for my sophomore season."
Moultrie added that one of the first things he asked the doctor was when he could play basketball again. As tough as the situation was for Moultrie, he credited his family saying, "It was definitely hard for my family and they stuck with it with me; they went through it with me."
Moultrie said he regained the ability to walk and get back on the court around mid-June. Around then, it was the beginning of NT's summer league, and that's where Moultrie had to regain all his basketball skills.
"I was just trying to get back to my roots; how to play basketball in the summer league with coach and my teammates and, over time, me working everyday, working as hard as I can I got here. I'm just happy to be here," Moultrie said.
In his comeback season, Moultrie averaged 8.8 points, 3.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game. Along with that, Moultrie has shot the ball 39 percent from the field in a secondary scoring role to senior captain Trevor Book, who averages 26 points per game.
Mountain and Keohane said Moultrie has shown growth in his game in the comeback season, especially as a young starting point guard.    
"He has basketball maturity, he's been playing the game a long time," Mountain said. "He has that toughness you need to play the point guard position, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. He's just done an incredible job leading our team this season and he's getting better and better every week."
Keohane said, "What I've noticed is his composure and maturity this year as a varsity player. He runs the offense for varsity and has done an absolutely incredible job. He's still not at 100 percent ... because Dante was so quick, had a great jump shot and then he had to get all that back because he couldn't even walk.
"It's an absolute miracle to see him on the court and last year was the toughest year as a coach because of what happened to Dante and now to see what he's done this year has been incredible."
Mountain added that it's been a learning season, as well, for Moultrie. He added that Moultrie handles the most important part of the team as the point guard, because everything runs through him.
"He's molded into what we need out of him near perfectly in terms of the ability to run an offense, to control pressure and not be pressured. Also, to get his points and that's not easy to do," Mountain said.
Moultrie said he knew Book was the main scorer coming into the season and his "main goal is to handle pressure as the point guard and take shots where I'm due. I'll do whatever's best for me team."
As a young guard, there's undoubtedly going to be a fair share of ups and downs for Moultrie. In each case, Mountain and Keohane have remained consistent in staying positive for Moultrie to succeed.
"Just try to stay positive," Mountain said. "Him along with Noah Fox-Stoddard, they're young guards and a lot has been asked of them."
"You're gonna miss some shots, but stay positive," Keohane said. "Sometimes Dante might get down on himself and stuff like that, so I've always said to stay positive. Even to this day, I talk with him after a practice or a game and I think his maturity of not getting upset because he misses a shot has been the biggest change in Dante since he's been back. ... He appreciates being back, because of what happened last year and he's doing an incredible job."
As a young guard Moultrie credited the four seniors on the team - Book, Sean Ferry, Codie Cronk and Kyle McNeil - for helping him and giving him advice in certain instances.
"Anytime I have any questions, like say me and Trevor are going at it, he'll help me saying do this move instead of this move. Kyle, Sean and Codie, they all help me running the plays, going back and telling me to calm down during tight-pressure games ... and it's just an honor to be around them and it's sad they have to leave after this year," Moultrie said.  
Moultrie and Fox-Stoddard also replaced two guards from the sectional championship team of Vincent Tripi and Noah's brother Jordan. Mountain said the two have learned from the older duo.
"Both of them have grown up watching Vinny and Jordan all play the point guard position and they did an incredible job at it. ... Thus far, Dante and Noah really have done an incredible job at being mature point guards in an extremely tough league," Mountain said.
Out of everything Moultrie has accomplished this season his comeback story is unprecedented. To be the starting point guard in the Section VI playoffs for NT is something some people a year and a half ago may not have believed when Moultrie was on life support.
Keohane said the last three people connected to the machine Moultrie was on in the hospital didn't make it. One word he used to describe his comeback - miracle.
"I still get choked up talking about it. It's tough," Keohane said.
Mountain, who's called Moultrie an incredible inspiration to the entire program, used the word heart to describe the comeback.
"I'd say heart. That's where it begins and that's where it ends," Mountain said.
As for Moultrie, he credits his comeback to "integrity."
"Integrity because I was on thin ice. I was that close to dying. Just me fighting through and my family fighting through and just everyone that's been here with me just fighting through, it's just an honor. I can't thank God enough. It's the man above," Moultrie said.  
Moultrie and the Lumberjacks begin the Section VI playoffs at home as the No. 4 seed at 7 p.m. Feb. 23.
 
Dante Moultrie runs the point guard position for the Lumberjacks in a recent game versus Grand Island. (Photo by David Yarger)

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