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With a big and heavy heart, promising recruit Zoe Guilmette forced to the bench

Zoe Guilmette and her brother, Marshall Guilmette, have both been diagnosed with ARVD. Marshall says basketball will miss Zoe. "She was a way better player than me," he said. Courtesy Laura Guilmette

Zoe Guilmette saw her AAU teammate dig into her purse and come up with a little. But it wasn't enough.

Sure, Ruona Uwusiaba could have gone without that night at Chipotle -- just not when Guilmette was around.

"When she saw I didn't have enough money for dinner, she bought more food and split her meal with me," said Uwusiaba, a 6-foot-3 post for the Georgia Metros and native of Nigeria. "Zoe has a good heart."

Uwusiaba didn't mean that ironically, but the unfortunate truth is that Guilmette's heart is precisely the issue at hand.

Guilmette, a 6-foot-6 center and rising senior at Harrison (Kennesaw, Georgia), was considering offers from UCLA, Florida, Wake Forest and Belmont last month when she got terrible news. Just as she was making a recruiting trip to UCLA, tests showed that she had a genetic heart condition called arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia.

ARVD is a progressive heart condition for which there is no cure, but it can be managed. Guilmette takes medication for her condition and is allowed 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day, but basketball would put her at high risk for sudden cardiac death, and so her playing days are over before she got a chance to pick a college.

Late last year, her brother, 6-foot-11 Marshall Guilmette, made the equally gut-wrenching decision to give up basketball, despite two years of eligibility remaining as a starting center at East Carolina University. He also has ARVD.

Zoe said she has seen a lot of great players but few that she felt could match her passion for basketball. A month after her diagnosis, she still choked up when talking about how her active lifestyle will have to change.

"I love being outdoors," she said. "I love to run. There's a joy and a peace in running. It's a good time to meditate. We have Kennesaw Mountain -- that's my favorite place to run. That's a time to connect to nature and also push myself."

Guilmette gathered herself at that moment, not wanting to get too emotional.

"I don't want to get out of shape. I want to be in shape for the rest of my life," she said. "I've always wanted to run a marathon. But now I realize I can still walk a 5K. I just have to refocus and get a new perspective."

Devastating news strikes twice

Marshall, 22, and Zoe, 17, are the only two children of 6-foot-3 Laura and 6-foot-7 Todd.

Todd played basketball in high school and coached the kids through the end of middle school. The Guilmettes have always been a close family, and Zoe fit right in, routinely going out of her way to show the people in her life that she cared. Every time Marshall had time to visit his family while on break from East Carolina, Zoe busted out "Welcome Home" banners all over the house.

"She's incredible," Marshall said of his sister. "There's not one person who has met her who doesn't love her. She's the nicest girl you will ever meet."

Everything was going great for Marshall and Zoe until March 2015. That's when Marshall had knee surgery. During his rehabilitation, he started feeling dizzy and a tightness in his chest.

One day, feeling his heart rate speeding out of control, Marshall went to his ECU trainer, Nate Clark, who called an ambulance. That led to months of testing and, finally, the ARVD diagnosis.

"It was awful," Laura said. "We were devastated."

Mixed with all those emotions, the family felt some relief.

"The doctors said we were lucky we caught it in time," Laura said. "The first symptom is sometimes sudden cardiac death."

Because ARVD often runs in the family, Zoe began the lengthy process of tests by experts at Duke and Johns Hopkins.

Marshall said finding out his sister had the same condition was sad on so many levels, beginning with the obvious concern for her health. But Marshall said he also was disappointed we won't get to see what type of player she would've become in college and beyond.

"She was a way better player than me," Marshall said. "She's more talented. I had mid-majors recruiting me. She's had the best schools in the country after her."

A new play

Marshall, who graduated in May with a degree in business finance, landed a job in sales for Insight Global, a staffing services company.

Zoe, who has yet to decide where she will attend college, recently shadowed a physical therapist and is interested in a career helping athletes recover and get back in action. Metros coach Matt Huddleston recently added her to his coaching staff as an assistant for tournaments in Atlanta and Chicago. She loved the experience.

In fact, while shadowing the physical therapist, Zoe couldn't stop thinking about coaching. "That's probably a sign, right?" she said with a laugh.

Huddleston, who said Guilmette's recruitment had been on "jet fuel" before the ARVD diagnosis, is helping her with the transition.

"Zoe is one of those kids every college loves," Huddleston said. "She's highly spirited. She thrives on the team concept. I told her, 'I'm going to make you a coach.' I gave her a role and duties, and it's gone very well."

Huddleston said his goal is to get her tuition waived to be a basketball manager at a top university, and there seems to be genuine interest. But coaching was the furthest thing from Guilmette's mind when she first got her diagnosis.

"I said, 'Get me away from basketball.' I needed a break," she said. "I thought it would be hard to sit on the bench and not play. I thought I would be thinking, 'Why did this happen to me? This is ridiculous.'

"But I just needed time to reinvent myself. Matt has been so great in helping me see that I could still feel that adrenaline and that love for the game as a coach."

Guilmette said she was touched by the support she has received from her high school friends and coaches. She was shocked by the love showed by college players and coaches she had met on the recruiting trail.

"The texts were overwhelming," she said. "To see how they have encouraged me was very fulfilling. I realized my life is not defined by my capability to play sports."

"I don't want to get out of shape. I want to be in shape for the rest of my life." Zoe Guilmette

Guilmette, who has a 3.6 GPA and is a big fan of WNBA star Elena Delle Donne, said her coaching experience has been "amazing" so far. Uwusiaba, her teammate/player, said Guilmette is already an outstanding coach.

"Out of everyone, her voice was the loudest one I could hear from the bench," Uwusiaba said. "When I would come off the court, she was talking to me like a coach. She said, 'It's unfortunate that I can't do this anymore, but you can. And you can do better.'

"I can talk about Zoe from morning until night because I've never met a person like her before. She has an awesome personality. It's hard to find such good people on this earth."

Perhaps basketball didn't suffer a loss here. Perhaps Guilmette's destiny is to coach, just sooner rather than later.

Whether it's coaching, physical therapy or some other endeavor, Guilmette figures to be a force.

"I'm not going to sit around and mourn," she said. "I don't like to cry about this. I know there are worse things out there. I don't have any reason to cry."