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Uconn’s Kevin Ollie takes step toward building ‘inclusive’ basketball court

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WEST HARTFORD-- UConn men's basketball head coach Kevin Ollie announced a big contribution Friday to help disabled athletes, a group he says has inspired him.

Ollie announced plans on Friday to help build a basketball court at the new Jonathan's Dream playground in West Hartford.

Ollie presented a gift of $50,000 for the project. Funds raised through his annual charity golf tournament will help too.

"I'm going to come over here in the summertime, in the springtime and just take a seat on the bench and relax and watch all the kid's playing. It's going to be a wonderful and exciting thing to see this court go up," Ollie said.

The project known, as Kevin's Kourt, will consist of up to nine inclusive basketball structures, giving children of all ages and abilities the chance to play together, without any limitations.

Ollie hopes to establish the court as the first of many inclusive basketball courts built in the state of Connecticut.

"Their bodies might not be functioning properly, but their hear is functioning properly, their mind is functioning properly," Ollie said.

Kevin's Kourt is  part of a plan to build the new and improved "Jonathan's Dream" playground, which will be known as Jonathan's Dream Re-imagined.

The original Jonathan's Dream was torn down in 2013 after reaching the end of its useful life. The concept inspired by the Barzach family of West Hartford, and it was built in 1996 as the first Boundless Playground, an inclusive, accessible play space for families and children. The playground was named in the honor the Barzach's son, Jonathan, who suffered from  muscular atrophy and died in 1995 at the age of 1.

Nearly a $1 million is needed to construct the new playground. Leadership Greater Hartford and the Mandell Jewish Community Center of Greater Hartford  are helping to coordinate corporate sponsorships and raise money needed to build the new playground.

Around $130,000 of the nearly $1 million has been raised after Ollie's donation, according to  Leadership Greater Hartford.

Ryan Martin, a 35-year-old native of Suffield, plays professional wheelchair basketball in France, and previously in  Spain. Martin was born with spina bifida, which resulted in the amputation of both his legs at age 2.

Martin said at Friday's announcement that the inclusive basketball court will hopefully help to inspire the local population of disabled children.

"I feel like even these opportunities provide an outlet, maybe it creates greater self-esteem, greater health and different things you really can't put a value on," Martin said.

Jamie Lawson, 20, attended the announcement ceremony and took a few jumpshots on the new inclusive basketball hoop. "I like to play basketball because I like to make shots," said Lawson.

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