This was supposed to be an exciting time of the year for Ron Giplaye as he prepared to makes his debut for the East Tennessee State basketball team after sitting out an entire season.
Instead, real life has interrupted and Giplaye finds himself sitting and watching once again.
Giplaye underwent open-heart surgery in August after being diagnosed with what ETSU called a congenital cardiac abnormality. Considering he sat out last year after transferring from Providence of the Big East Conference, and Giplaye hasn’t played a meaningful basketball game in a long time.
“It’s tough,” Giplaye says. “I want to play.”
Giplaye was doing the things college basketball players do in the summer, working out and playing pickup games, when he experienced what he called “random chest pains.” After careful consideration, it was decided that he needed the surgery.
“It was shocking,” Giplaye said. “I never had anything like that happen before. It kind of came out of nowhere.”
By all accounts, the surgery went well and the 6-foot-6, 250-pound forward from Lowell, Mass., could be back on the court before the end of the season. He has two years of eligibility remaining, and even though ETSU could petition the NCAA for a sixth year if he doesn’t play this season, he wants to play as soon as he’s allowed, no matter when that is.
Giplaye will find out on Oct. 30 if his recovery is going well enough for him to return to non-contact drills.
“I really want to get back,” he said. “I’m just waiting for the decision. Then we’ll take it from there.”
ETSU coach Murry Bartow has the 30th circled on his calendar.
“We’ll know a lot more at that time,” Bartow said. “We’re encouraged by what we’re hearing. It sounds like he’ll play this year.
“We’re more concerned about Ron and his future and living until he’s 80 years old than we are about him playing basketball. But at the same time, he’s a basketball player and he’d love to play.”
An eight-inch scar on Giplaye’s chest is a reminder that some things are more important than basketball.
“Heart surgery is something you don’t hear a lot about,” senior forward Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard said. “When you do hear about it, you know it’s a serious situation. We weren’t really worried about him as far as not being able to play. We were just worried to make sure he was going to be OK, going forward in life, period.
“You obviously feel for him because that’s one of your teammates, one of your brothers. We could see how hard he was working last year when he had to sit out. For him to have a setback, it was tough. We knew it was tough on him, but it was tough for us too. He’s our brother.”
Sophomore guard Lester Wilson said the players’ initial reaction when they heard the news was “shock.”
“We found out he had to have heart surgery and it kind of shocked all of us,” Wilson said. “We didn’t think anything was wrong with him like that. He was running fine. We were told he needed friends and he needed his family. When you start talking about things like that, you’re not sure what’s gonna happen, if you can even play any more. He needed our support.”
When Giplaye finally gets on the court for the Bucs, Bartow said fans can expect to see a tough player willing to do the little things necessary to win.
“He can rebound and Ron’s really smart,” Bartow said. “He’s not a great shooter, but he can score around the basket and he’s a really good passer. Obviously, if he was good enough to be recruited at the BCS level, he’s good enough to help our program.”
Joe Avento is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.