In the end, Emmanuel Negedu found a school willing to let him play basketball. Whether the school should have given him that chance is another matter entirely.
After suffering a cardiac arrest during a workout at Tennessee's football practice facility last November, Tennessee officials told Negedu that they wouldn't clear him to play for the school again, but would allow him to finish his scholarship if he wanted to remain at the school. (Negedu was cleared by Tennessee's doctors, but the athletics department wouldn't acquiesce.) Negedu wanted to play basketball, though, so he took his hopes elsewhere -- most notably Indiana, where doctors again cleared him before university officials stepped in and ended the flirtation.
After all that, Negedu landed at Steve Alford's New Mexico program, and he seems pretty happy about it:
"Coach (Steve) Alford told me he had already talked to the legal department there to get that cleared, and I just had to see the cardiologist,'' said the 6-foot-7, 220-pound Negedu, who visited New Mexico earlier this week. "That went well, so I got my dream back. I'm happy and I'm excited.'
“There will always be a place in my heart for Tennessee no matter where I go, and I would love to stay here but this is working out for me to follow my dream and do what I do best. I know they will understand, and I give them my love.’’
There are some conflicting issues here. The first is that Negedu is by all accounts an unusually intelligent and well-liked guy, that he will be sincerely missed on Tennessee's campus, that his talk of dreams isn't just boilerplate, that he really wants this and is determined to do it. In a way, it's good to see him getting a chance to do that, and you can't help but wish the guy the best of luck as he goes about rebuilding his basketball future.
The problem here is that Negedu's heart stopped. There was a decent chance, had Tennessee medical staff not reacted so quickly, that Negedu would have breathed his last breath in November. Now Negedu has a defibrillator a few inches below his chest plate, a stopgap against an unregulated heartbeat. Saying it literally doesn't make it any less unbelievable, when you really think about it. He has a machine in his body to make sure his heart works properly. See what I mean?
Maybe Negedu can play basketball with minimal worry -- it is possible to participate in athletic activity with a defibrillator -- but do you really want yours to be the school that plays that delicate risk-reward game? Indiana looked desperate in its willingness to entertain the idea. In taking Negedu on, Steve Alford looks something altogether worse: reckless.
Negedu will suit up this fall, his basketball career beginning again. Let's hope his heart cooperates. If it doesn't, New Mexico -- one school that couldn't say no to Emmanuel Negedu, risks be damned -- will, for better or worse, look uncomfortably responsible.