When former Tennessee forward Emmanuel Negedu revealed Monday he had been medically cleared to transfer to New Mexico, most Lobos fans weren't sure exactly how to react.
Some were thrilled at the prospect of adding a former top-100 recruit who could be eligible to contribute as soon as next season if the NCAA grants him a waiver. Others were understandably wary about taking a player who nearly died after suffering sudden cardiac arrest less than a year ago and is only leaving Tennessee because school officials there didn't feel it was safe for him to play again.
If anyone can offer an informed perspective on the risk Negedu is taking by playing Division I college basketball again, Pepperdine assistant coach Will Kimble is a good candidate.
Kimble passed out during practice at Pepperdine in 2002 as a result of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscle thickens, making it harder for the heart to pump blood. It is the same heart condition Negedu has and the same condition that tragically killed Loyola Marymount University's Hank Gathers in 1990.
Pepperdine wouldn't clear Kimble to play, so he transferred to UTEP, playing the 2004-05 and 05-06 seasons with a cardiac defibrillator implanted in his chest to monitor his heart's rhythm and to deliver energy when an irregularity occurs. Kimble spoke to me Monday afternoon about the risks Negedu is taking playing with such a device and the advice he's given the 6-foot-10 sophomore forward during the past few months.
How difficult a decision was it for you to decide to play with your heart condition given the risks?
WK: "It wasn't difficult at all. Everyone in my circle was comfortable and we had no reservations about it at all. I believe that this condition is something that can be monitored, and if you have a good crew of doctors looking after you, I believe it's something you can play with. My understanding was my defibrillator is going to protect me. More so, the risk was what is going to be the after effect of the defibrillator kicking in.
Why do you think UTEP was willing to risk letting you play when other schools like UC Riverside, UCLA and Texas A&M wouldn't?
WK: I think they did a really good job of looking at the facts as far as my body goes and my condition goes rather than the things that had happened previously. They had a great group of doctors down there and they did an excellent job of communicating with my doctor in L.A. The other schools were all scared because of the legal issues, but at UTEP, it all ended up working out.
How did you get in touch with Emmanuel?
WK: I got in touch with him through (FoxSports.com's) Jeff Goodman. He was doing a story on him, he had mentioned he had a relationship with him and asked if I would talk to him. I gave him a call a few months ago and we've been talking ever since.
Do you remember your initial reaction when you heard that Emmanuel collapsed after racing a teammate in practice?
WK: I really didn't know Emmanuel when it first happened, but every time you hear something like that happens, you already know what it is. I definitely understand how he's feeling. Anything I can do to help him out or be there for him to talk to, I'm more than happy to do. I remember I was in a state of shock and didn't really know what to do. There's no manual for how to continue to play basketball with a heart condition. If I can bring comfort to somebody else, that's what I'm going to do.
What advice have you given Emmanuel?
WK: He's just got to try to maintain a positive attitude and handle his business. When you're put in a negative situation, the easiest thing to do is shut it down, go into a tank and go into a hole but that's not a progressive thing to do. You want to maintain a positive attitude.
One other thing I expressed to him is when he gets on the court with this decision, be comfortable with the decision you made and don't second-guess yourself or have any reservations. If you're going to make such a big decision, you should never go a day wondering what's going to happen. You should go out and live your life like you have before.
What's your reaction to the news that New Mexico has cleared Emmanuel to play and he's accepted their scholarship offer?
WK: The last time I talked to Emmanuel was when he was on his visit to New Mexico. I didn't know if they'd be able to get it done, but he told me it sounded like they could do it. I told him I know those guys at New Mexico, they're all great guys and I know the doctors wouldn't clear him if he wasn't going to be fine on the court. I think it's a great thing. I know he's excited and I can't wait to see him do great things on the court.