Sacramento 8-year-old shuns NBA to see high school stars

Eight-year-old Camilo Graniel is facing a tough future. In his brief life, the south Sacramento third grader has already undergone four heart surgeries, the latest on Monday to replace a pulmonary valve.

Yet Graniel does get one benefit from all his time spent in the hospital: Before each operation, the Sacramento native is granted one wish. Heading into his most recent procedure, Graniel ignored more predictable requests like hanging out with the NBA's Kings or going to Disneyland, instead opting to meet his true heroes: The Grant (Calif.) High School Pacers football team.

According to a story by Joe Davidson of the Sacramento Bee, Graniel got his wish and more over the past two weeks. On Oct. 2, the third grader was a guest of honor at Grant's game against Merced (Calif.) High, yet another win for the No. 4-ranked team in the RivalsHigh 100. Then last Thursday, just days before heading into surgery, Graniel was visited by two of Grant's biggest stars, James Sample and Shaq Thompson.

Sample donated one of his game jerseys to Graniel, who leaves it on the pillow next to his head. Thompson autographed a pair of his gloves from an earlier game and gave them to the 8-year-old. Now Graniel won't even go to the bathroom without taking the gloves with him.

"What's helped him is the love of the Grant team, what they have done for him," Graniel's mother, Jennifer, told the Bee. "It's very special, emotional."

The Northern California powerhouse program is getting something from their biggest elementary school fan, too. The team's players claim to be humbled that someone in the community looks up to them so devoutly, and have happily dedicated their 2010 accomplishments to the boy who's spent more time in a hospital bed than everyone on the Grant roster combined.

"It means a lot to us that he follows us, and we are touched that it means so much to him that we care for him," Thompson told the Bee. "We're glad he's OK. We want him to know that all of our touchdowns are dedicated to him."

That should help Graniel feel more like part of the team, if he didn't already. Every night when he goes to sleep he can look at the 2010 Grant team photo. Stuck at the top of the photo is a piece of athletic tape with a name on it, just like the team's players wear in practice. The only difference is the name on the tape: Camilo.

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