Bronny James stood on the Galen Center court Thursday, not far from where he’d collapsed last summer, firing one long jumper after another from the wing. It had been less than five months since he suffered sudden cardiac arrest, and in the weeks that followed it was fair to wonder if James, the son of Lakers star LeBron James, would ever play the sport again.
But on Thursday, the touted freshman took part in his first full-contact practice at USC, without any limitations, the final checkpoint on his path back to basketball.
The expectation now at USC is that James will make his long-awaited debut Sunday, coach Andy Enfield said Thursday. Though, Enfield said, when making that decision final, USC will ultimately defer to the freshman, his family and the many medical professionals who have attended to him James when making that decision final.
USC has another practice on Friday, after which James will be re-evaluated.
“It’ll be a determination of how he feels personally and our doctors and trainers and strength coach,” Enfield said, “but all indications are he feels great, and he looks good.”
Assuming he does play, James will begin his college career on a minutes restriction as USC cautiously integrates him into its rotation. Enfield declined to discuss any details about the medical implications of his return.
How long it will take James to actually ramp up remains to be seen. Enfield said last week that James’ impending return had happened “about as quickly as we could have hoped." James has been working out and shooting on his own. But it may still be awhile before James establishes himself as a regular in USC’s rotation.
Regardless, Enfield was thrilled at the thought James might miss only eight games after such a serious medical incident.
“He’s gone through a lot, physically and mentally,” Enfield said. “This is great that he’s here now. We have a lot of the season left. The fact that he’ll be able to play three-quarters of the basketball season is incredible.”
Still, Enfield said he expected it to take a few games for James to get his timing back.
“I know there will be a learning curve,” Enfield said. “He’s a freshman. But we understand that his third or fourth game will probably be better than his first.”
For USC, his return should provide at least an emotional lift, even if it takes time for him to contribute on the court. The Trojans are currently 5-3, with losses in two of their last three games.
“It definitely raises the team morale,” said junior guard Kobe Johnson. ‘If he’s able to [return] with, it’ll be a huge moment. I know it’s a moment he’s looking forward to, his family is looking forward to, a whole lot of people are looking forward to.”
LeBron James has already said he doesn’t plan to miss his son’s debut. As it so happens, the Lakers are off Sunday afternoon, when USC is slated to face Long Beach State.
Watching his son climb back from his cardiac arrest, LeBron James said last week had “put everything into perspective.”
“Truly understand that nothing else matters other than your loved ones at that moment,” James said after Bronny had been medically cleared. “You just stop everything that you’re doing and it’s literally, how do we help him or your loved one get better, from the moment it happened all the way until they’re successful.”
That moment is finally on the horizon for Bronny James, not long after his future had been thrown into serious doubt.
“When that moment comes,” Johnson said, “it’s going to be very special.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.