Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Sports

Hall's heart in right place at Wichita State

ATLANTA

It is odd that the weakness is in his heart. Most of the time, Carl Hall shows so much of it.

Hall, the Wichita State forward, plays basketball as if he does not wish to waste a second of it. After all, it is a gift restored, a promise renewed. And so it is that Hall attacks the game as if, at any moment, the doctors might take it away again.

There is a reason for his fury. Playing angry, they call it at Wichita State. With Hall, however, it isn't really anger that drives him. It is joy. It is a return to the game after two years in limbo.

And, no, he would never have imagined it.

"It's amazing to consider," Hall said. "I've had such a long journey."

Hall could have died. Start with that before you consider that he might be the happiest player in this Final Four.

The disease is called neurocardiogenic syncope, a condition where the heart beats too quickly. In Hall's case, it would shut down completely. One minute, he would be running down the court, and the next, someone was waking him up. Like toggling a light switch in his chest.

"It was scary," Hall said. "It would happen so fast. You couldn't control it. You didn't know when it was going to happen. You didn't even have time to lay down."

Over a 2½-year period, Hall had seven blackouts. The doctors thought it was dehydration at first. But when it happened again three games into Hall's career at Middle Georgia Junior College, doctors came up with a new, weightier description. For Hall, the translation was simple: no more basketball.

And so they took it all away — his sneakers and his uniform and his dreams — and Hall went to work at Lithonia Lighting Co. in Cochran, Ga.

And the world of basketball went on without him.

"It was a hard job," he said. "I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. I worked in the paint booth, and we painted different parts that went on the back of lighting. It was hot, and it was nasty. You would come home covered in paint."

Night after night, it went on that way. Hall worked the graveyard shift, from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. He made $12 an hour. And he went a little crazier by the day.

He was 18, and at 6 feet 8, he was the tallest lightbulb-fixture painter in all of Cochran, Ga. He was tired all the time, and he was depressed, and he missed the game.

Finally, in August 2009, Hall's doctor brought up playing basketball again. His heart had strengthened. If he took his medication, he was told, and if he would realize the risk, he could play again.

"I'm at risk every time I touch the court," Hall said. "That's something I can live with. I'm willing to take the risk."

At once, Hall's personality was restored. He went from a church league back to Middle Georgia, and from there to Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, and from there to Wichita State. It is not the recommended path to the Final Four.

On Friday, Hall, 24, sat on a podium in front of reporters, the bright lights on him. He looked up and squinted.

"We made those lights," Hall said. "I probably painted the parts for them."

He grinned. Hall does a lot of grinning these days. After all, his second career is going quite nicely. On an overreaching team, he is the most overreaching player of them all.

Hall also has become a bit of a character on the Wichita State team. For instance, there are the glasses — the large, thick glasses — that define his look. Hall didn't want to wear them. But he found himself squinting all the time, and everyone thought he was angry.

Then there are the now-trimmed dreadlocks. At one point, they had reached 15 inches. They were heavy, and Hall wanted a different look, so he cut them off and sent them home to his mother.

Then there is the breathless way he plays. He wasn't like that a year ago. He was still cautious about his condition, still reluctant to push his body for fear of what happened.

Coach Gregg Marshall, too, took it easy on Hall. Marshall had once signed a guard named Guy Alang-Nitang, who collapsed after a scrimmage and died. Marshall wasn't going to risk that again.

So Hall sort of coasted his first year with the Shockers. But in the offseason, he decided to push things. He pushed them all the way to Atlanta, as it turns out.

"He's our heartbeat," Marshall said.

In a heart-warming tale about heart, who else would you expect?

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