Monday, July 15, 2024

Bronny James’ attitude after cardiac arrest has helped USC teammates ‘sleep at night’

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LOS ANGELES — Just fifteen minutes after Bronny James collapsed on the floor of the Galen Center practice courts, his teammates heard, he was up and cracking jokes.

The hysteria of headlines that swarmed, after news broke two months ago that perhaps the most famous teenager in the world had suffered cardiac arrest at a USC practice, was felt in that bubble that Monday night at the Galen Center. They were playing five-on-five, and then it just happened, senior guard Boogie Ellis said; and the reaction was simple confusion, senior transfer DJ Rodman said.

What just happened? 

And yet for all the panic, for all the trauma of a horrifying medical calamity that teammates had seen befall a second USC player within the span of a year, James’ overwhelmingly positive nature has helped this team move forward, Ellis and Rodman said on Monday. Stripped away behind the heft of his family name and the legion of cameras that tracked his every high school move, Rodman – son of an NBA legend himself – had come to know James as a fairly quiet, goofy kid without an ego.

Knowing James is in recovery – the team visiting the freshman at the hospital the very next day and, now, hearing him quip in a Snapchat group chat – has helped USC “sleep at night,” Ellis said Monday.

“He popped up when he did, and it was just that,” Rodman recalled of the night of James’ heart attack. “It was just, Bronny. It was just who he is.”

“It was like it never happened.”

James wasn’t at the team’s first official practice of the year on Monday, and Coach Andy Enfield said he couldn’t comment on any medical specifics. But after a promising update last month from a James family spokesperson – establishing that his heart attack was likely caused by a congenital heart defect and expressing confidence that he would return to play soon – optimism abounded on Monday as to James’ prospects for his freshman year with the Trojans.

“I’m really looking forward to playing with him this year,” Rodman said. “That’s one of the main things I want to experience, is just playing with him.”

Coming out of an up-and-down but highlight-filled high school career at Sierra Canyon, his USC teammates only got a small on-court glimpse of James; the freshman didn’t accompany the Trojans on their preseason European tour, and is “around when he can be,” Enfield said. But the same easygoing attitude that has helped teammates move on from the trauma of that night – “no choice but to move forward,” as Rodman put it – has already endeared James to veteran members of this USC program. Chief among them Enfield.

“He’s the ultimate teammate because he cares about winning … watch him on the court, and you’re around him. That’s the first thing you notice, within five or 10 minutes,” Enfield said Monday. “And it’s contagious.”

“We’ll miss that here, until he gets back,” Enfield continued.

And indeed, Jonathan Drezner, the director of the University of Washington’s Medicine Center for Sports Cardiology, told SCNG last month that he would expect a full recovery for James provided he’d received surgery to treat the congenital anomaly. Speaking as a medical professional and without knowledge of James’ actual treatment plan, Drezner said such anomalies are correctible either by percutaneous intervention or surgery. The timeline for such recovery, Drezner said, “may be about three months.”

If James is able to make a full recovery and contribute during his freshman year, he’ll add another ballhandler to a USC team already brimming with playmakers. Fifth-year senior Ellis will be a reliable source of points, teaming with freshman lead guard and top recruit Isaiah Collier to form a dynamic backcourt. James would add a secondary-creator threat who can play off of Ellis or Collier in transition and on catch-and-shoot looks.

“I think, right now – even without him, we’re a top-20 team,” Rodman said. “But him coming back is, it’s just locked and loaded, top-15, top-10 team in my opinion.”

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