VCU freshman JeQuan Lewis with friend Earl Denton Dec. 1 at Belmont.

JeQuan Lewis and Earl Denton catch up after VCU’s win at Belmont Dec. 1.

Someday, VCU freshman JeQuan Lewis could end up being most famous basketball alumnus of Dickson County High School. But even then, he won’t be the institution that Earl Denton is, and Lewis knows it.

While Lewis may not be able to lay claim to being his Tennessee hometown’s favorite son, he’ll have Denton’s friendship to drive him toward whatever success lies ahead. Even while he’s hundreds of miles away, Lewis’ connection to Denton inspires him.

“Earl, he has the ability to get me hype like no one else really does,” he says.

For most of his life, the 24-year-old Denton has been confined to a wheelchair. When he was a year old, Earl’s parents, Al and Sherry Denton, noticed a deterioration in their son’s physical abilities following a bout with a virus. After a battery of tests and meetings with specialists, Earl was diagnosed with leukodystrophy, a group of disorders marked by a degeneration of the myelin sheath – which aids neuron function – surrounding the brain. Children with leukodystrophy can experience a gradual and irreversible decline in physical skills, speech, vision, hearing, behavior and cognitive abilities. There are believed to be around 40 different types of leukodystrophies, and there is no cure.

Sherry Denton says the family’s doctors originally gave Earl only about two years to live.

“It was horrible,” Sherry says. “We were 22 and 24. It was horrible. We really thought Earl wasn’t going to make it. We put him in our bed and slept with him in our bed every night. If we only had two years, we were going to make the best of it.”