SARATOGA SPRINGS — All the boys on the Saratoga Central Catholic basketball team know at least some of the details of what Danny Mantia has been through, but they don’t bring it up very often.
To them he’s just one of the guys, and the junior point guard likes it that way, yet his story is so unique. It’s awfully inspiring, too.
“It’s crazy what he’s gone through, and how he’s persevered,” Saints senior Hayden Day said during a break from a recent team workout. “He’s a warrior.”
In a way, whether the Saratoga Catholic varsity plays a game or not in these uncertain COVID-19 times, Mantia has already won by earning his spot on coach Bill Haskell’s squad.
Mantia, you see, has one leg longer than the other, and had it not been for a series of corrective procedures, he said there would be a five inch difference and playing the game he loves best would not be possible. There is a one-and-a-half-inch difference now that he uses a shoe lift to compensate for, and another surgery after he graduates will address that.
“He’s always had a positive attitude,” said Ken Mantia, Danny’s father and a former boys’ basketball coach at Spa Catholic. “He’s never let it hold him back.”
Danny Mantia was born with proximal focal femoral dysplasia, which is a rare disease that affects the growth of the femur, or thigh bone. He’s undergone three major surgeries on his left leg, had that leg broken each time as part of those surgeries, and has spent month upon month rehabilitating.
“I know I’ll be banged up again,” said the 17-year-old from Saratoga Springs. “I want to make the most of this year and next year before I get the next one.”
Basketball is currently on pause in New York high schools because of its potential for COVID-19 spread, and no date has been set for its return, keeping players, coaches and fans in limbo.
“This is the first time I’ve been fully healthy in a while,” Danny Mantia said. “I want to have a season. I definitely want to play.”
That was apparent while the 5-foot-6 youngster was dropping in layups and shooting jumpers at that recent workout. Haskell liked what he saw.
“He’s crossed off every question mark anyone would have,” the first-year Saratoga Catholic head coach said. “I expect him to be a major contributor.”
Mantia looked no different than the rest of his teammates aside from the shoe lift that at first glance is easy to miss.
“I didn’t even notice until one of the other coaches and I were talking about him,” Haskell said.
Haskell can relate to Mantia. The veteran coach was born without a right hand, yet would not be deterred, and as a high schooler at Corinth played a significant role for a couple of league championship basketball teams with his scoring and rebounding. Haskell later made his mark as both a player and coach with the SUNY Adirondack team.
“You want to be like all the other kids,” Haskell said. “You don’t want to be treated any differently.”
Danny Mantia had his first leg-lengthening procedure done when he was 11 years old, and when there was a 3-inch difference between his legs. Doctor John Herzenberg of the International Center for Limb Lengthening in Baltimore conducted the procedure. The procedure included the insertion of a titanium rod which afterward, with an external magnetic device, was extended daily by a fraction of an inch.
“What they can do is incredible,” said Ken Mantia, who works with the state’s child protective services. “It’s amazing they can do it.”
“I was definitely nervous about the first surgery. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was something I had to do,” Danny Mantia said. “The second time I knew what to expect. I knew what the process was.”
A second leg-lengthening procedure was performed when Danny Mantia was 14, and at that time, the rod was removed and replaced by a longer one to aid in the growth of his leg.
For three months after each surgery the leg was lengthened .25 millimeters four times a day by his mom, Mary Beth Mantia, while the two stayed in Baltimore. Six months of healing followed, and Danny spent another nine months regaining strength.
“Rehab, that was definitely tough, getting back to where you were,” the youngster said.
“That was him committing every day. He pushed himself farther and farther and didn’t complain. There’s something in him,” Mary Beth Mantia said of the rehabilitation. “That’s the hardest part for a lot of kids.”
Danny’s first surgery happened when he was three years old, when Herzenberg created a missing ACL for the youngster from his thigh muscle, built a larger hip socket, broke and reset his femur that was bowed “like a boomerang,” and inserted a rod for stability.
“You need a stable knee, ankle and hip to have the other surgeries,” said Mary Beth Mantia, who works as a secretary at Spa Catholic “After the first surgery, he was in a body cast for eight weeks.”
Danny Mantia found an interest in sports when he was in elementary school, and aside from his gaps for surgery and rehab, he’s never stopped playing them.
“He’s never been afraid to try anything,” Mary Beth Mantia said. “When he was five or six his cousins wanted to go ice skating. We took him and he used the little bar the first time and he goes, ‘No one else is doing it.’ His legs were close to two inches [different] at that time, so he spread his legs a little wider to stay balanced and did it.”
Over the years Danny Mantia has played on baseball, soccer and basketball teams, including the Spa Catholic modified hoop team.The Boston Celtics fan won Elks-sponsored free throw shooting district championships when he was 10 and 11.
“He doesn’t look at anything as a handicap,” said Spa Catholic athletic director Phonsey Lambert, who coached the 11th-grader back in his T-Ball-playing days. “He just competes. No matter what, he has always given 100 percent.”