Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mikhail Torrance battles for life

Let's hope he has a speedy recovery.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Less than 10 minutes after he came to the sideline with a smile to greet a writer he had met only once before, former Alabama basketball star Mikhail Torrance  collapsed on the basketball court Friday afternoon, touching off a dramatic, emotional and urgent rescue attempt to save his life.

Before leaving to join Maccabi Tel Aviv, the Israeli powerhouse with whom he signed earlier this summer, Torrance wanted to work out at the acclaimed IMG Academy, where he also worked out before the 2010 NBA draft. Friday was his third day there, and he looked and sounded excited before the workout began. There was hop in his step.

Then everything turned tragic. Torrance had just finished his first shooting drill and was heading toward the sideline for a drink when his knees buckled and he crashed to the floor, hitting his head. Hard.

Within seconds, one trainer was by his side, then another and another in a busy training facility that was quickly cleared. He moved a few times as they tried to keep him conscious, but that didn't last long. Paramedics arrived within a few minutes and started pumping his chest, trying to revive him. Torrance had stopped breathing. They also tried using the defibrillator to shock his heart. He was not breathing when he was taken from the gym.

He was rolled onto a stretcher while CPR continued to be administered, then whisked to nearby Blake Memorial Hospital in Bradenton, where he was treated for an hour before being transferred to Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

"He is still alive and he is in our intensive care center at the hospital," a hospital spokesperson said Friday night. The spokesperson could not say if Torrance had suffered a heart attack or what caused the collapse.

A source close to Torrance confirmed that he was breathing with the aid of ventilator and that his family was rushing in from Birmingham, Ala.

"I was shocked and saddened to hear about Mikhail this afternoon," Anthony Grant, Torrance's college coach at Alabama, said in a statement. "My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family at this very difficult time. I want Mikhail and his family to know that his teammates, coaches and the entire university community are praying for his full recovery."

A spokesperson from the IMG Basketball Academy, where he had just begun a workout in its air-conditioned gymnasium, could only confirm that he had been taken to the hospital.

"Maybe we'll know more in the morning,'' said a person at the hospital familiar with the situation but not authorized to release information.

This much was certain:

Torrance just completed four years at the University of Alabama, where he established himself as one of the better point guards in college basketball. He averaged 32 minutes and 15 points per game as a senior, consistently showing NBA skills.

Yet his heart issue was well known, although not considered dangerous. Some people had referred to it as "an enlarged heart.'' Torrance himself had said several times that he had "an athlete's heart,'' which he described as "just a little bit bigger'' than most. Earlier this summer, Torrance told The Birmingham News and Mobile Press-Register that team doctors at Alabama cleared him to play and said his heart condition was common to athletes.

He blamed the heart issue for not being drafted, especially after he was examined by doctors at the NBA's pre-draft camp, which didn't prohibit him from playing, but it raised red flags with individual teams that might have been interested.

"After seeing the reports, we took him off our draft board, and we didn't think it was in his best interest to play basketball,'' one NBA executive said Friday evening after learning what happened. "He had the talent to play, but we didn't think he was physically qualified (because of the report on his heart)."

Torrance spent four days in the Miami Heat's summer camp, but they never signed him to a contract, and released him before they opened play in the Las Vegas Summer League.

It was soon after he left Miami that he signed a contract to play professionally in Israel for highly regarded Maccabi Tel Aviv. He was expected to leave soon to join his new team.

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