The Whiz Kid

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By JORDAN IKEDA

Rafu Sports Editor

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To many people, the fact that NBA training camp begins in a few weeks might seem like a blink of an eye since last season. After all, it was only two and a half months ago that Kobe Bryant held up his Finals MVP trophy and Lamar Odom chomped on a cigar as they rode through downtown Los Angeles to the cheers of thousands of Angelinos.

But for some, the 2009-10 season’s opening tip can’t come soon enough.

Bestowed the moniker “the Whiz Kid” by Lamar Odom, Jarrett Kageyama has been somewhat of an internet sensation the past few weeks, helping to carry that Purple and Gold 15th championship mania through the dog days of summer.

Jarrett strikes a thoughtful pose in Little Tokyo. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

Jarrett strikes a thoughtful pose in Little Tokyo. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

The three-year-old Jarrett’s expertise, as big as Andrew Bynum, centers on the Lakers roster. Throw out a number, say, four, and Jarrett immediately informs you that’s Luke Walton. Ask him who number two is, and he’ll tell you Derek Fisher. Number 24? Kobe Bryant.

But those are the easy ones, right? Try and really test this young Chick-in-training with say, 21, and he’ll know immediately you’re referring to Josh Powell’s number. Half the Lakers fans out there don’t even know who Powell is, let alone his jersey number. Case in point, Jarrett’s got his home team down.

“He’s known the roster for a year now,” Jarrett’s father, Eric Kageyama told the Rafu Shimpo. “When he was two we could have made some kind of video. But a few weeks ago, people were telling us we should make a YouTube video. So the next day, Sunday morning, we had nothing to do. I thought Youtube. Plugged it in and boom. It was up.”

Since then, the video has had over 50,000 views, has been linked to on several Lakers blog sites, and has been featured on the Twitter accounts of not only Lakers Vice President Jeanie Buss, but Jarrett’s favorite player, the Candyman himself, number seven.
The response has mostly been positive—“This kid is awesome!” “So cute, I wish I had one kid like him!” “That kid knows his Lakers!”—but a few bad apples can spoil the barrel.

“You know, little comments bother you as a father,” said Eric. “It was important for us to show anyone who has seen the video that it’s not a gimmick. It’s a part of our lives. It really has helped us get through a lot.”

See, Jarrett has a form of dermatitis called eczema. Though usually not life-threatening, the disease is certainly life-altering as both Eric and his wife Sandy can attest. Jarrett was born the day after the couple had purchased their home. Back-to-back momentous occasions to be sure, but a Kobe/Shaq three-peat was not to be.

A few months later, they found out about Jarrett’s condition. Eczema causes rashes and dryness that produce itching, crusting, flaking, blistering, cracking, oozing, and/or bleeding. Dealing with Jarrett’s condition required constant care and supervision. Sandy could not go back to work.

With the economy mired in the Great Recession and the added expenses of medication and treatment, the family has struggled to stay afloat. To make matters worse, the recent water crisis has hit the family-owned nursery pretty hard.

“That first year, I was holding him down and he was scratching and I literally saw his skin crack,” said Eric of his son. “It was just like boom. That was hard. When you can’t really do anything is the hardest. It’s not like a cold when a few days it will be better. It’s 24 hours a day. All the time.”

Amid the sleepless nights of scratching, the cracking skin, the doctor’s visits, the constant worry, the continual Benadryl and Zyrtec, the doctor-prescribed restraints for car seats—the Kageyama family found a purple and gold ray of hope.

“We were told by one allergist that the big thing to do to help him stop scratching is distraction,” Eric said. “He started watching the Lakers about a year and a half ago. I was watching a game and he would come around and start looking at different players and go up to the T.V. and ask me ‘Who is that? Who is that?’

Jarrett also studied the programs his dad would bring home for him. A Lakers education of sorts. When his dad took him to a couple of games this past season, nothing could tear his focus away from the court and the numbers and faces he had come to know so well.

This dedication to Jack Nicholson’s favorite team helped out at home as well. The lotions that Jarrett uses on his skin are called Kobe Cream around the Kageyama household. He wouldn’t use it otherwise. They even have a song for it. He also has some specially designed pajamas from Europe that are now called Kobe Clothes. When Jarrett brushes his teeth, Eric tells him “Mbenga” after the Lakers Belgian-Congolese back up center, and he knows to count 28 strokes with his toothbrush.

“With the Lakers, we’re bigger than fans,” said Jarrett’s father. “It’s really an everyday thing. We talk about it everyday. It’s a big part of his life.”

And now Jarrett has been featured on his favorite players’ Twitter page, a bittersweet development considering that only three years ago, Lamar Odom lost his own son to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Jayden would have been about Jarrett’s age.

“As a father, as a parent, you can really relate to that. I don’t know how we would have reacted to that,” said Eric. “You know, you hate to see your kids in pain. To actually lose a child? The way [Lamar] has handled that in the media and in the spotlight, it’s impressive.”

Lamar is Eric’s favorite player as well and he has been encouraged by the brief messages Odom has sent him the last couple of weeks.

As for Jarrett’s eczema, topical steroid cream and other medicines have helped hide the worst of it, and as time goes by, the disease will slowly diminish. Jarrett is doing so well in fact, that he just started pre-school last week, something he was clearly excited about when asked.

But there’s no doubt that the real excitement won’t happen until Oct. 7—the start of the Lakers season.

The magic number of days until that first exhibition game?

Jarrett knows that one too…32.

Story originally ran in the Sept. 5 issue of the Rafu. To watch Jarrett’s Youtube video, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wDgJ3AjLbw

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