On Monday, Minnesota announced that incoming freshman Jarvis Johnson would not be medically cleared to play for the Golden Gophers this season, a decision that was made because Johnson, a 6-foot-0 in-state point guard, has an internal defibrillator.
As an eighth-grader, Johnson’s heart stopped for roughly ten minutes during a practice. He was diagnosed with hydropathic cardiomyopathy — known as HCM — which is a disease that has killed a number of young athletes in recent years.
On Tuesday evening, Johnson’s father, Curtis, spoke with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and said that he and his family were surprised about the decision.
“It seemed like it was a thumbs up for everything,” Johnson said. “We felt a little misguided in the way the recruitment went, and then the sudden decision last week. Under the circumstances, time didn’t allow us to make an educated decision even. We felt pressured by it.”
It’s worth noting here that Jarvis, as well as his mother, seem happy to be at Minnesota, tweeting out how much they appreciate the team and the staff after the father’s quotes had been published:
— MissyT (@tanishalajoy) June 17, 2015
— Jarvis Johnson (@MuhneyyChief_12) June 17, 2015
But for argument’s sake, I have a couple of thoughts on this.
For starters, if Richard Pitino and his staff told Johnson that there was no doubt that he would be cleared, that’s shameful. If they did so knowing that there was a good chance Johnson would never play for their program, trying to ensure that he didn’t end up playing for a conference rival like Iowa, Michigan State or Maryland, that’s even worse. But as cynical as I am and as dirty as college basketball recruiting can get, I find it quite hard to believe that Pitino would intentionally mislead the family.
Was he confident he could get Johnson cleared? Probably. The kid won four straight state titles playing with that defibrillator. Everyone involved in the recruitment likely assumed that five years without an incident would be enough to get him medically cleared.
It’s also worth noting, however, that if Pitino and his staff did, in fact, lie to the family, the family also should shoulder some of the blame here. This decision was not made by Pitino or his athletic trainer or his athletic director. It’s made by doctors and lawyers and school presidents, people with degrees that are worth nearly as much as Pitino’s annual salary. It’s made by people that try to determine the risk of the worst-case scenario happening and the financial exposure for the university if that were to happen.
With a son that has a medical condition as serious as this, the family is responsible for doing their own due diligence. If they didn’t, that’s on them.
This doesn’t have to be the end of the line for Johnson’s basketball career. He has already enrolled in classes for this summer, but he can still drop out and enroll at a different school for the fall semester, one that will clear him to play. He may have to sit out the 2015-16 season as a transfer and he may not be playing for his dream school, but his career would continue. To my knowledge, three players have played with a defibrillator, and all three were forced to transfer because they weren’t medically cleared:
– Allan Chaney left Virginia Tech and, three years later, was cleared to play at High Point, where he collapsed in December of 2013 during a game.
– Justin Moss left Toledo and was cleared to play at Buffalo, becoming a mid-major all-american on a team that reached the NCAA tournament this season.
– Emmanuel Negedu left Tennessee and was cleared to play at New Mexico, but his career lasted less than half a season after he had another heart scare.
I feel for Johnson and his family. It’s an awful situation for him to be in. But I find it hard to fault the university or the staff for anything beyond a miscommunication here.