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TRUMP OVER DISAPPOINTMENT..what a wonderful example!

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Lisa Salberg Find out more about Lisa Salberg
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  • TRUMP OVER DISAPPOINTMENT..what a wonderful example!

    Fleming still contributing to UW hoops

    by Stacy Hicklin, Sports Editor
    February 05, 2003


    Imagine playing basketball your whole life, eventually getting good enough that numerous Division 1 schools want to give you a scholarship, accepting a scholarship to play at one of the best schools in the Big Ten, and then, a month into living your dream, it is all taken away in one instant. This is exactly what happened to Latrell Fleming a year and half ago.

    Fleming, a 2001 graduate of Milwaukee Marshall, was a highly-recruited talent; one of the best guards not only in the state of Wisconsin, but throughout the Midwest Region. He started to get heavily recruited the summer before his junior year and even moreso the summer going into his senior year, when he played with George Karl's Friends of Hoop team.

    "Latrell was a tremendous, complete guard who had a great outside shot; he could really shoot the ball," assistant coach Tony Bennett said. "He was a great ball handler, he had a lot of tricks, and he could cross people up. He was a natural point guard who could really stroke it. The combination of him and Devin (Harris) would have been lethal, we thought."

    Latrell would eventually narrow his top five university choices to Marquette, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Tulane (in New Orleans) and Wisconsin.

    In the end it was UW that would win the recruiting battle as Fleming decided he wanted to be close to home, though not too close, and he was drawn to the legendary Dick Bennett and the high academic standards the university had to offer.

    However, the deal almost fell through as, after Fleming signed with the Badgers, Bennett retired and Brad Soderburg was named the interim coach. Adding even more uncertainty to the fire, Soderburg was not hired at the end of the season; instead, Bo Ryan took the reins of the program.

    While Fleming had some uncertainties about the fate of the Wisconsin program, he eventually decided he felt comfortable enough to follow through with his commitment and play for UW.

    Going into his freshman year, Fleming just wanted to take it slowly and work hard. He was doing just that about a month into school when his fate took another unexpected turn.

    As part of preseason conditioning, the team goes through a series of workouts where the players run the up the hill at Elver Park 10 times. The players run their cycles in pairs, and it was on a run such as this that tragedy struck.

    Fleming was on his eighth trip up the hill when he began to experience trouble.

    "I got tired, and the next thing I remember is the trainer slapping me in the face so that I would come to," Fleming said. "The hill is a big challenge; I mean everyone struggles on the hill."

    The day after Fleming collapsed on the hill, the trainer took him into the hospital to receive more attention and to run tests to see if this was a serious problem.

    "I was kind of nervous, wondering if I was going to play again or what I was going to do if basketball was done," Fleming said.

    As it turned out, the incident on the hill was more serious than anyone had ever thought. It was announced on Sept. 27 that Fleming has been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disorder generally characterized by the enlargement of the heart muscle and the thickening of the walls of the left ventricle.

    What it meant was Fleming would never be able to play basketball again in his life, or any other sport for that matter, except sports like bowling or golf.

    "I was kind of in denial; I mean, I played basketball all my life, and then it all came to an end," Fleming explained.

    "It was really tragic; here is a young man whose dream since he was a little guy was to play big-time college basketball, and everything was looking good, and then to have that happen was a tremendous blow to him," assistant coach Tony Bennett said. "You think of the situation and how tragic it is for someone's dream to be taken away."

    Throughout the whole experience, Fleming said he really leaned on his family -- especially his mom -- and coach Ryan for support.

    After it was determined Fleming would never be able to play again, the coaching staff asked him if he would remain part of the program and become a student assistant coach, and, in doing so, he would remain on scholarship for four or five years, depending on how long it would take him to graduate.

    "I know he would love to be out here going through the drills, but we offered him the opportunity to continue with the program and observe," coach Ryan said. "He talks to me about some different things. His eye is very keen on basketball; his basketball IQ is very high. He knows he is still part of the family, and we still love him the same way even though he is not able to put on a uniform. He is still a big part of this program."

    Even though his life has changed drastically, those close to him have admired the way he has been able to handle the adversity.

    "You never heard him complain once," Bennett said. "The way he handled it has been awesome; I mean here is a young 18-year-old at the time, and that is how I would have liked to handle the situation -- how he did."

    One of his best friends and roommate for two years, Devin Harris, said their relationship has changed in some ways, but he is still the same fun-loving guy he has always been.

    "We hardly talk about basketball; we try to look at other aspects of life; we just try to go out and have fun and have a good time," Harris said. "I think he is livelier; he enjoys life a little more now. He is always in a good mood; he is very happy most of the time. He is just a regular student having fun."

    Now, instead of focusing on basketball, Fleming is focusing on his future. He is a legal studies major, and he wants to go to law school after he graduates. In law school, he plans to study to become a sports agent, and guess who will be his first client? That's right, his best friend Dev, who he has known since they were 11 years old playing in the Police Athletic League.

    Fleming describes himself as a smart, easygoing guy who just loves to have fun and try new things. He admits that he loves to play Madden with his teammate Deandre Buchanan.

    It is hard not to smile when around Fleming, as he always has what Harris deems "the smirk" on his face. He is constantly enjoying what is happening around him and finding the best in every situation.

    "Last year it was really hard, but it is normal now," Fleming said. "I don't feel as bad; I guess I just kind of got used to it, and I learned not to take anything for granted and to work hard at everything you try to achieve. I try to take initiative in new things. I try to make things happen; I don't just wait for them to happen."

    Even though Fleming is no longer able to suit up and blow by opponents, he is still out there making a difference and contributing to the UW program in many ways.

    "He really does enjoy life, and he is making the most of it," Bennett said. "He has got a wonderful opportunity here to carry on despite the unfortunate situation that happened."
    Knowledge is power ... Stay informed!
    YOU can make a difference - all you have to do is try!

    Dx age 12 current age 46 and counting!
    lost: 5 family members to HCM (SCD, Stroke, CHF)
    Others diagnosed living with HCM (or gene +) include - daughter, niece, nephew, cousin, sister and many many friends!
    Therapy - ICD (implanted 97, 01, 04 and 11, medication
    Currently not obstructed
    Complications - unnecessary pacemaker and stroke (unrelated to each other)
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