Clarence Holloway sidelined for good

Not surprising, but still sad, the news today that University of Louisville basketball player Clarence Holloway will never play basketball again. Holloway suffers from Marfan Syndrome, and required a life-saving surgery after a routine basketball physical to repair damage to his aorta.

A return was a longshot for Holloway, but a shot he was working hard to get. As it is, U of L will appeal for him to remain on scholarship and in school, without counting against the basketball team’s scholarship limit.

I wrote a long feature on Holloway last year. It follows, along with best wishes to Holloway for a successful future.

Averting a Tragedy

Oct. 17, 2007, The Courier-Journal

University of Louisville basketball trainer Fred Hina had been through the routine 50 times before with every Cardinals player under Rick Pitino.

Drive downtown to Jewish Hospital. Sit in the waiting room while the player receives a physical. Meet the player when he walks out, then drive back to campus.

This time was different. This time, Clarence Holloway, a 7-foot-1 freshman from Chicago, didn’t walk out of the exam room. A couple of doctors did.

Inside, Holloway wasn’t being allowed off his rolling exam table. Diagnosed with an aortic dissection a potentially fatal tear in the wall of the largest heart artery the 20-year-old was being admitted to the hospital and prepared for emergency surgery.

“At first they said I had a heart murmur, and I thought it might be nothing,” Holloway said. “Then they sent me down to have a heart scan, and the first doctor didn’t say anything, and she went to get another doctor, and then she told me, ‘ You need heart surgery.’ They put IVs in and all that. Right after the scan it was bam, bam, bam, people start scrambling around you.”

Scott Bell and Connie Anggelis, who were among the doctors working on Holloway’s physical, told Holloway he was lucky to be alive, that his aortic wall had thinned and weakened and that his aortic valve was leaking.

“Where the aorta goes into the heart, that part is distended, much like a bubble in a water hose, and the wall gets thinner,” said Hina, the UofL trainer. “And his was thin like a balloon with a tear in it. So if that ruptures, it’s death. There’s no defibrillator, no bringing them back with CPR, none of that would have saved him.

“…I just hate to think, if we hadn’t had that done it would have happened somewhere, in the gym, the weight room, walking to class, and what a tragedy that would have been.”

It has been 24 days since Dr. Brian Ganzel performed open-heart surgery to repair Holloway’s damaged aorta and replace his aortic valve. Yesterday, Holloway sat in U of L’s Yum! Center practice facility and didn’t look like a guy fresh off heart surgery.

A month ago his biggest worry was being ruled eligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse a process that still isn’t complete. And today?

” I’m so glad to be alive,” Holloway said. “You look back at everything that happened for me to be here, and it’s amazing. If I hadn’t been here, this wouldn’t have been found.”

Wrong call, right call

Holloway is right. It’s amazing he turned up in Louisville to begin with. He committed to play for the Cardinals in 2004 but didn’t qualify academically and went to prep school.

After that, he made an ill-advised jump into the NBA draft. At that point, it looked like his involvement with U of L was over.

“He just called me out of the clear blue and said he wanted to go pro,” Pitino said.

Pitino immediately went to Florida, where Holloway was attending IMG Academy, to try to talk him out of it.

“I was listening to the wrong people,” Holloway said. “My own people were feeding me to go pro. Coach Pitino came down to talk to me and was telling me and my coach and another guy with us that I wasn’t ready yet.

” Looking back on it, I should have listened to him. It wasn’t easy to look into his face and tell him I was going pro. And he got mad, and we didn’t talk for a while.”

Eventually, it became clear to Holloway that he wasn’t ready. Scouts told him. Agents told him. And he withdrew from the draft and made a tough phone call. To Pitino. It might have been a life-saving call.

“I asked him if he was still interested in me,” Holloway said. “I didn’t know what he’d say. But he was pretty excited.”

Said Pitino: “He said, ‘ I should have listened to you. You were right.’ And I said, ‘ Well, come on. Get your grades in order and come join us.'”

And what if Holloway hadn’t made that call? And what if Pitino hadn’t answered it?

Both think about that these days.

‘Baby steps’

Doctors told Holloway he likely had been living with the condition since high school and he learned it was the condition that killed his father at age 40.

“He took medicine for it,” Holloway said, ” but he died when I was in Pampers. My mom was at the doorstep, and he collapsed right behind her, and he was gone.”

Holloway said that he had gone through medical exams during high school and in Florida before prep school but that nothing turned up the condition .

“If he’s not here, he’s probably not alive,” Pitino said. “Jewish Hospital did a phenomenal job. We had to get to his mom in a hurry, because they discovered it on a Friday afternoon and didn’t even want to wait until the next morning.”

That night in the hospital room with his mother, Holloway said he didn’t sleep. And in the days since the surgery, he’s done a lot of thinking. He’ll have no physical activity for 12 to 15 weeks. Doctors are optimistic he’ll be able to play basketball again, but nothing is certain.

“I’ve got to take baby steps,” Holloway said. “This has changed me a lot, made me view my life differently. Right after the surgery, I was thinking about what it would be like to get a regular job and have people asking me why I don’t play basketball. And that’s hard to think about. But now I think about my future and see that there’s more than basketball to living a good life.

“But I still have a chance to go for it. They say I may have to go back and have the valve replaced again when I’m 35, but technology is always changing.”

Holloway grew up without a father and grasped at the NBA in hopes of easing financial worries, but he said his relationship with Pitino kept U of L in the back of his mind.

“Now I know why,” he said. “I think God led me here. It was a blessing. I got a big second chance. And I’m just so happy.


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