Former USF basketball star B.B. Waldon focuses on recovery

Former basketball standout B.B. Waldon working back from horrific accident.
Published July 22 2015
Updated July 23 2015

BARTOW

He eschews both walker and cane, impediments to his goal of self-sufficiency. B.B. Waldon walks on his own power, albeit with a slouch and an occasional wince.

Somewhere beyond his personal horizon lies independence. With each surgery, each rehab session, one of the greatest players in USF basketball lore shuffles a bit closer to it, praying for no complication that would negate any steps forward.

"I push myself every single day," Waldon said. "With therapy I'm like, 'Don't take it easy on me,' because I need to (push) and I want to, because I've got a family and I want to help take care of them and support and be there for them. I don't want to be in a position where I can't help out."

Yet aside from a few household chores, Benitez Bernard Waldon can help his bustling family — wife, three stepchildren and a daughter — only minimally. A horrific car crash in late April cost him some short-term memory, a lot of mobility, any semblance of a restful night's sleep, and darned near his life.

"My main goal is to get back to where I was," he said.

Until then, the physical pain is accompanied by excruciating reality: One of the greatest scorers and rebounders in USF lore needs assists.

He's getting them, from myriad sources.

There's Kelly, Waldon's wife of seven months who juggles her husband's needs with 12-hour days as a registered nurse at Bartow Regional Medical Center. There's his dad, Tony, who chauffeurs his 6-foot-8 son to twice-a-week rehab sessions in Winter Haven. There's Jay Gibbons, B.B.'s best friend and former Lakeland Kathleen High teammate who remained at the family's side during his buddy's hospitalization.

There's 14-year-old stepson Aiden Brown lending a hand around the family's Mulberry home. There's stepdaughter Adysen Ursino, a high-functioning autistic 19-year-old who went so far as to take a course on how to assist a patient in B.B.'s condition.

And there's the USF family.

In an effort spearheaded by former Bulls guard Anddrikk Frazier, a contingent of B.B.'s former teammates and coaches will stage a series of events — including a golf outing and alumni hoops game — to help defray medical expenses likely to reach six figures after insurance.

The outpouring of support makes B.B.'s 35-year-old eyes glisten.

"You have no idea," he said.

"I think for people that really didn't know B.B., because he was a person that had a very tight and close circle, you may not understand how giving and how big of a heart the guy really (has)," Frazier said.

Observers on the periphery likely never saw that side of the Bulls' all-time leading rebounder (928) and No. 4 scorer (1,869). More stoic than standoff-ish, Waldon arrived at USF in 1998, a year after guiding Kathleen High to the Class 4A state title.

In his collegiate debut, he scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds in a 93-76 road humiliation of Texas. He eventually led the Bulls in scoring (16.2) and rebounding (seven) that year, earning Conference USA All-Freshman honors.

He finished his career in 2002 as the Bulls' only four-time All-C-USA pick. He remains the only player in school history ranked in the career top 10 in scoring, rebounding and steals (215, second place).

"I think about the guys I had a chance to play with," said Frazier, a Tampa Prep alumnus. "And when the lights turned on, B.B. was probably one of the most fierce competitors I've ever played with on any team at any given level."

A vagabond existence followed. Waldon played professionally in at least four foreign countries, spent some frustrating years working in juvenile detention, and even was employed for a while at USF while trying to complete his degree in public administration.

He met Kelly about three years ago when she was picking up Aiden from a basketball practice at Kathleen High, where B.B. was volunteering. They eventually began dating, and married last December. This past winter, they coached a local high school-age Special Olympics team that finished 5-0 at the Midwest Basketball Invitational in Milwaukee.

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On the morning of April 27, B.B. was headed for a job interview with a wholesale grocery firm in Plant City when his 2005 Nissan Altima smashed into the rear of a stationary garbage truck on Lakeland's western fringe. Florida Highway Patrol trooper Ronald Drake told the Tampa Bay Times he estimated Waldon's car was traveling 45-50 mph at the moment of impact.

No skid marks were found, and Drake said neither drugs nor alcohol were suspected as factors. Phone records indicated Waldon was neither texting nor calling anyone at the time. Though Drake's report indicated Waldon wasn't wearing his seat belt, he never was cited in the crash.

Nor does he remember any of it, except this: It was his daughter Aliyah's 10th birthday.

"The last thing I remember is (Kelly) taking me to Winter Haven for inpatient therapy," he said.

By contrast, the day's events are seared in Kelly's mind. She was logging her operating-room shift at Bartow Regional when she got a call notifying her of the accident. Still in her scrubs, she raced to Lakeland Regional Medical Center, where B.B. was transported, and crumbled to her knees upon seeing her husband.

"I've been doing this since I was 22, and it's different when it's that side," said Kelly, her native Pittsburgh accent still profound. "The ER doctor told me I probably needed to call some family because he said it didn't look good."

B.B. had suffered multiple facial fractures, frontal-lobe damage, a fracture of the transverse processes (bony extension) of the C4 and C5 vertebrae, chipped and broken teeth and a fractured right hip. Additionally, he suffered extensive ligament damage to his right hand, on which he had lost the top of his middle finger only six months before while trying to repair a push lawn mower.

But nestled beneath all the visible damage was a pleasant surprise: No brain bleed. "For his type of injury, that's amazing," Kelly said.

Incrementally, other improvements followed. Initially confined to a respirator, B.B. began breathing on his own. Then he took steps, albeit with a walker. He regained his ability to communicate, defiantly indicating over time he wanted to walk on his own.

On Monday, he carried on a normal 90-minute conversation in a Bartow Regional conference room. When seated, his forehead scars, the stitches above his right eye and his gnarled right hand remain the most conspicuous signs of the accident.

"I am very blessed to still be here," he said.

Yet more uphill stretches remain on the immediate road ahead, and for all his yearnings for independence, B.B. will need some assistance. On Monday, Kelly produced a binder — roughly the thickness of an NFL playbook — replete with medical records, bills, insurance documents and Social Security forms.

She pulled out one bill for $114,000, then another for $64,000. Even with insurance, the out-of-pocket costs will be daunting. More surgeries are forthcoming.

Hence the reason he appears to get choked up about the fundraising efforts by his former USF peers and coaches. Proceeds from the fundraisers — Frazier is hopeful of raising $50,000 — get him closer to his ultimate aspiration.

Delivering some assists of his own.

"I can't stay like this forever," B.B. said. "I want to get back to doing what I was; being a parent, helping out with the house.

"Just helping out."

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

   
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