PINELLAS PARK, Fla. — Full court. Full sweat. Full throttle.
That's how Carson Wood and his teammates at Lift University like to play basketball at Forbes Rec Center in Pinellas Park.
"They get after it!" Carson says with a proud smile. "And I love that. They've brought so much joy to my life. That's my family, man."
Carson is a 17-year-old basketball star at St. Pete High School, but tonight the junior is in a Lift U uniform moonlighting for his other team.
Seminole's Lift University is a transition program for young adults with neurodiversities. A few years ago, Carson played against Lift's then-fledgling basketball team.
After that game, he approached program director Lois Mays and said he wanted to help, to mentor.
So he did just that. And he kept coming back, too. He became a friend and coach.
"And the students would ask at 8 o'clock in the morning, 'Is Carson coming today?' laughs Mays. "Yes, I would say, 'Carson's coming.'"
Lift U helps students with special needs prep for all facets of the real world. The basketball team fills the competitive need, teamwork.
Carson eventually convinced his St. Pete High team to start scrimmaging with Lift U, full-court games with big loud crowds and refs and mascots.
It's the real deal. And both teams go hard.
Carson, however, doesn't dress as a Green Devil for these games. Instead, he wears Lift U's blue.
"This is the bright spot of my day," Carson says, hugging his teammates after another great game. "It doesn't matter what disorder you might have. These kids just love the game, and I can get behind that."
Matt, Lift U's sharpshooting guard, says his friend Carson has formed nothing less than a brotherhood.
"Without him," says Matt, "we would never be here."