"The schools want to save themselves," said Will Kimble, an assistant men's basketball coach at Cathedral High School (Calif.). "It's easy just to say, 'You can't play.' It's a quick fix."

Kimble should know. After collapsing during practice at Pepperdine University in November 2002, he was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy — the same heart condition that killed Gathers during the West Coast Conference tournament in 1990.

He spoke with three doctors, all of whom told him he would never play basketball again.

But then he met Dr. David Cannom, the director of cardiology at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. Cannom implanted a defibrillator — complete with cords and everything — into his left shoulder.

By all accounts, the procedure was a success. After Texas A&M and UCLA retracted scholarship offers because of liability concerns, Kimble latched on with Texas-El Paso. He averaged 4.7 points over 64 games in two seasons (2004-05 and 2005-06) with the Miners and experienced no cardiac episodes.

"I never even thought about [the defibrillator]," Kimble said. "I just went out and played my hardest every night. I took charges and whatnot, and it was never a problem."

To this day, Kimble is the only Division I men's basketball player to complete a full season with a defibrillator implanted in his body. Chaney could be the second.

But why is that? There have been tremendous advances in defibrillator technology the past decade. Why has no one replicated Kimble's success?

There have been opportunities. In 2006, former Vanderbilt forward Davis Nwankwo (Georgetown Prep) walked away from the sport after being resuscitated during practice. He got a defibrillator, but decided his condition was too severe to contemplate a return.

And just last year, New Mexico forward Emmanuel Negedu stopped playing after his internal defibrillator produced a reading that alarmed doctors. He had played in only 10 games for the Lobos after Tennessee declined to clear him.

"It all comes back to the individual," said Cannom, who Marchlinski consulted before implanting the defibrillator in Chaney's chest in November. "If a doctor feels comfortable enough to clear him to play and the player feels ready to do so, he should have that option. Because at the end of the day, it's their lives at risk in the first place."

And according to recent findings, that "risk" might not be as high as previously believed.

Starting in March 2006, Cannom helped lead a study investigating the safety of sports for athletes with internal defibrillators. The research tracked 372 athletes with internal defibrillators for a six-year span, checking in with them every six months.

The results were encouraging. While 9 percent of athletes received a defibrillator "shock" during competition, no serious adverse consequences were reported. Cannom said he hopes the data help change the way doctors view defibrillators, that physicians and schools become more willing to let athletes return from heart conditions.

"These defibrillators really work," Cannom said. "People may be wary of letting athletes play with defibrillators, but the results are very clear. It's safe."

'The Comeback'

High Point coach Scott Cherry first approached Chaney in June when a scholarship opened up late in the offseason. Although he had never seen Chaney play in person, he was familiar with his career and heard from a colleague he was available.

The school's doctors reviewed all of Chaney's medical records and agreed with Marchlinski's decision to clear him. Chaney, who chose the Panthers over about a half dozen other mid-major offers, is eligible to play next season since he graduated from Virginia Tech in June with a degree in apparel, housing and resource management. He will have one guaranteed year of eligibility and plans to apply for a medical redshirt to gain a second.

"We felt like the kid deserves a chance," Cherry said. "All he wanted was a chance to prove to everybody that he was healthy and could still play. And from everything we've read and everything the doctors and the cardiologists here have said, they don't see any reason why he couldn't."

Cherry added that he's confident Chaney still possesses the same talent that made him a top-75 recruit in the country in 2008, and that he believes he can earn All-Big South honors next season.

But right now, Chaney isn't too concerned with his potential. If the past two years have taught him anything, it's that nothing in life is guaranteed. He's just focused on completing what he affectionately calls "The Comeback," on making the most of a new beginning.

It's a philosophy Chaney shares every morning. Before he shoots a text or picks up a basketball, he writes the same message on his Twitter account: "Thank you Dear LORD for waking me up today!!!" It's a personal reminder of the importance of living each day to its fullest, of appreciating everything he is given.

"Just being a good person is what is important because you never know who you'll need along the way," Chaney said. "And in my situation, I'm going to need a lot of people. A lot of people. And right now, I have a lot of people, so I don't think there's no way I can fail, man."

Chaney still feels like the king of the world. Just maybe not for the same reasons he did 28 months ago.

cletourneau@baltsun.com

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