Ex-Gonzaga star cleared to play after heart surgery

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Ronny Turiaf, the former Gonzaga Bulldogs star who had open-heart surgery just over six months ago, has
signed a contract to play for the Yakama Sun Kings as part of his

Turiaf brings new status to the Continental Basketball
Association team, whose fans tracked his stellar career at Gonzaga,
just three hours east in Spokane.

"From a selfish standpoint, for me, he's a great basketball
player. But for the franchise, and for everything Ronny has done in
this state, it's the biggest one we've ever had," coach Paul
Woolpert said of the signing Wednesday. "And he hasn't even
stepped on the floor yet."

Turiaf, a 6-foot-9 forward, was chosen by the Los Angeles Lakers
with the 35th pick in June's NBA draft. During a subsequent
physical, doctors detected a heart problem, and Turiaf underwent
surgery July 26 to repair an enlarged aortic root.

The Lakers voided the contract but retained the rights to Turiaf
for three years. He has no timetable for joining the NBA team.

"I'm not physically healthy enough to endure practice and
training for an NBA schedule," Turiaf said at a Wednesday news
conference. "I'm using Yakama as training. As long as I'm here, I
will work hard and I will try to make this team better."

Turiaf, who worked out with the Sun Kings for the first time
Wednesday, said he got "a little winded" but otherwise felt good.
He said he will be working to get back to NBA form, but for now,
"I'm a Sun King."

Details of the contract were not disclosed.

Turiaf's first court action likely will come Monday, when Yakama
plays the Idaho Stampede in Boise. His first home game with the
team will be the following night.

Asked how he was felt about finally getting back to the game,
Turiaf said, "Nervous, no. Excited, yes.

"I've been waiting for this so long," he said. "Just give me
a jersey and a pair of shoes and I'm ready to go."

The Sun Kings drafted Turiaf with the fifth pick in September's
CBA draft, after his surgery. Woolpert, who saw Turiaf play at a
draft camp last spring, was well aware his stint as a Sun King
could be temporary, if it happened at all.

"No question in mind mind that he was head and shoulders the
best pick in the camp," Woolpert said. "We don't know how long
Ronny will be here, but however long it will be, we'll be extremely

Turiaf brings size to a team that currently the best record in
the CBA at 11-3.

"He'll allow us to go big and still be athletic. He gives us
that presence inside," Woolpert said.

The team was sold last summer to the Yakama Nation, an American
Indian tribe based just south of this central Washington city. The
June acquisition was contested by some tribal members, who ousted
several tribal leaders in a recall election.

The spelling of the team name was changed to 'Yakama' to reflect
the tribe's ownership.

The dispute slowed ticket sales at the start of the season, but
sales picked up to five times the usual pace following word
Wednesday that Turiaf would sign a contract, general manager Rich
Austin said.

Turiaf was a celebrity known simply as "Ronny" in Spokane,
where Gonzaga is based. His expressive face famously reflected the
Bulldogs' triumps and disappointments.

A native of Martinique, he was recruited by the Bulldogs after a
prep career in France. He averaged 15.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per
game last season.