CHAMPAIGN, Ill (WCCU/WICS/WRSP) - Two weeks ago, the Illinois men’s basketball team put up 120 points in a win over Hampton. But it was a halftime performance by a seventh grader that became the highlight of the night.
Jojo Hayes has loved basketball for as long as he can remember.
"When I was little, probably six or seven, I started playing and I literally loved it," Hayes said. "So I just kept doing what I did and didn’t let it stop me."
While his skills on the court are nothing new to his classmates, his deep three at the Illini game has allowed more than 200,000 people across social media to see his abilities.
Hayes lost both of his legs after contracting meningitis at age one, a procedure the doctors didn’t think he would survive. One that hasn’t stopped him from sharing his charismatic personality with everyone he encounters.
"Every now and then you get one of those students that is so special that you get to be a small part of their life," said Danielle Gray, a school counselor at Franklin Steam Academy in Champaign.
A life that sees no limitations despite the challenges that have been given to him.
"I can use my hands. I don’t have legs but I still don’t let that stop me," said Hayes. "So I’m guessing that basketball is going to be the sport for me."
"He does have a lot of challenges and obstacles in his way, but I think with that mental attitude you can really take on a bigger path in life," added Gray. "He can encourage other kids who have similar disabilities and just let them know a lot of it is your attitude."
No matter where life takes Hayes, he will be open to embrace any challenge. And if the Illini give him another opportunity to play at halftime. He’ll be ready.
"I’m going to try, see if I can, get some more fans, even though I already have them. Get some extra."