Ron Giplaye had hoped to become an impact player for the East Tennessee State basketball team this season.
He’s now hoping he’ll simply be able to play basketball again.
The junior forward from Lowell, Mass., underwent open-heart surgery last week for what was described in a university release Wednesday as a “life-threatening condition” that was discovered earlier this summer. Giplaye is reportedly recovering with family members at his side at his Johnson City apartment.
“The surgery went very well, and I think he’s pretty upbeat under the circumstances,” said Brian Johnston, ETSU’s assistant athletic director for sports medicine, who has worked closely with university officials and doctors throughout Giplaye’s ordeal. “He’s been through a major procedure, a very serious procedure, and is pretty sore.
“I think he’s definitely interested in playing basketball again once he gets better. At this point, we’re not going to rule anything out.”
Most ETSU fans have yet to see the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Giplaye in action. He transferred to ETSU from Providence last summer and wasn’t eligible to play.
He was an imposing presence in team practices, however, and figured to bring rugged rebounding and defense to the Bucs this season. Now it’s unclear whether Giplaye will ever wear the blue and gold, though he is expected to make a full recovery.
“There is that hope,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow. “Obviously, my first concern is for Ron and his well-being for the next 60 years of his life. It’s going to be a fairly lengthy recovery, and at some point we’ll know more about basketball.”
Johnston said Giplaye had begun to mention symptoms of what is now described as a “congenital heart abnormality” after his arrival from Providence and has been closely monitored by the ETSU medical staff, including team physician Ralph Mills and assistant trainer Brett Lewis.
“He sat out last season as a transfer, and it was one of those things where he’d mention a symptom and we’d do an investigation,” said Johnston. “We’d rule out one option and move on to another. As we got deeper into things, we asked for help from people in the area, and it became serious very quick.
“Most of the time these conditions are diagnosed in autopsies.”
Giplaye, who turns 23 on Sept. 14, underwent surgery late last week in Virginia. Johnston declined to say where it was performed or name the surgeon, but said it was “a specialist who has done similar procedures on high-caliber athletes.”
“We had many, many long conversations with Ron about his options, and he talked to multiple doctors,” said Johnston. “I don’t think anything could have gone better as far as the care he has received.”
Said ETSU athletic director Richard Sander, “I want to commend our sports medicine staff and coach Bartow for acting immediately in the best interests of Ron.”
Even as something of a mystery on a team with eight players who weren’t wearing an ETSU uniform last season, Giplaye’s absence will likely be felt often once preseason camp opens in October. The Bucs lack the kind of bulk he would have brought to the frontcourt, and there is also a Big East toughness about him.
Giplaye played in 26 games at Providence as a sophomore, starting 12, and averaged less than two points and rebounds a game. He played his high school basketball at Notre Dame Prep, helping the team finish at No. 5 in one national poll his senior season.
“When you bring a guy in like Ron – 6-6 and 250 pounds and played at Providence – you expect him to impact your program,” said Bartow. “Based on practices last year, that’s what was going to happen.”