Everything was going really well for Utah State forward Danny Berger during the first month of his junior season. Now he's hoping to see what it would be like to finish it.
Berger started the first five games of the 2012-13 men's basketball season and was averaging 7.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game before almost everyone was caught by surprise when he collapsed in cardiac arrest during practice on Dec. 4, 2012.
WHO: A 6-foot-6, 205-pound junior forward for the Utah State men's basketball team.
WHAT: The former North Medford High standout collapsed Dec. 4, 2012, during practice and had to be revived by an automated external defibrillator. A permanent defibrillator was inserted in his chest and he was released from the hospital four days later but had to sit out the remainder of his junior season.
What transpired after that was nothing shy of a miracle for Berger. Assistant athletic trainer Mike Williams immediately administered CPR and then revived Berger's heart using an on-site automated external defibrillator.
Four days later, the 6-foot-6 forward was released from the hospital after having a permanent defibrillator inserted in his chest but the turn of events essentially wiped away his season.
"Now we're looking for a re-do," Berger said Friday of his junior campaign.
With the help of Utah State officials, Berger has applied to the NCAA for a medical redshirt and is awaiting word on his future status with the Aggies in hopes of returning to the program next fall with two years of remaining eligibility instead of one.
"They're working on the paperwork right now," he said. "I don't see any reason why it wouldn't happen. You're not allowed to get it officially cleared until after the season is over but hopefully we'll have an answer pretty soon. I've talked with a lot of people about it and I don't see why (the NCAA) would have a problem with it."
Either way, Berger is determined to get back on the court for Utah State and is feeling pretty optimistic about his chances these days.
"I'm doing really good and feeling really well," he said.
It was a tough adjustment initially for Berger, who went from starter on a 4-1 team with a bright future to observer on a team that limped home at 21-10 thanks to various injuries throughout the squad. Utah State ran its record to 14-1 at one point.
"It really was frustrating because we had a lot of high hopes for this season and a great group of guys that were good this year," said Berger. "It's unfortunate but injuries are part of the game and you can't do much about that."
Berger was not allowed to raise his left arm above his heart for three weeks due to his surgery but his training has steadily increased ever since, although not at a frenetic pace. One thing he learned most from his near-death experience was that life is precious and playing basketball will only be a small blip on what hopefully will be a long existence.
"Realistically basketball is going to be over in a few years and I'll have my whole life to live after that," said Berger, who turns 23 on May 12.
There was some immediate trepidation over how his heart would respond to resuming his active lifestyle, from Berger and all those around him.
"Maybe there was a little hesitation when I first came back just because how serious the situation was and obviously my health was the main concern," he said. "But as time went on and as I listened to my doctors and what they were telling me, I've felt pretty comfortable and I'm getting better with it every day."
"My coaches were obviously nervous when I was out running lines and stairs and stuff and made sure I had a trainer with me the whole time," added Berger. "It was tough at first with all that going on but it's now actually getting back to normal."
Berger has started to face a little more contact in his training but primarily in a half-court setting.
"It takes two months to get in shape and two weeks to get out of shape," he said with a laugh.
As for having a defibrillator in his chest, Berger said his doctors explained it to him as if you went your entire life without wearing a wristwatch and then got one as a gift. It takes some time to get used to it before you don't really notice it.
"It's still not fully out of my mind but it's getting better," said Berger.
What also remains on Berger's mind is his good fortune and the tremendous outpouring of support he has received following his collapse.
"You never know what can happen and this is proof of that," he said. "I never thought anything like this or anything close would happen to me or anyone around me. I was just fortunate to have the equipment and people around me who knew what they were doing. There couldn't have been a better situation for those things around me."
"I can't even believe how many people contacted me after that and just how many supporters there are for me," added Berger. "They did a notecard booth out here at school and I got over 1,500 get-well cards when I was in the hospital from random students I didn't even know. Everyone really came together in support of me and that really helped. I just can't thank them enough and tell everyone how much I appreciate that."
While the support has been heart-warming, the amount of national attention Berger gained because of the incident has at times been overwhelming.
"It's definitely a lot different for me because I just kinda like being a regular student and someone who plays basketball for fun," he said. "I guess people like recognition for things they accomplish and I wasn't expecting this to bring me that recognition, but I've actually met quite a few really good people who were on my side rooting for me because of it and that's been good. I'm not really big on the attention and being in the spotlight but I try to look at the positives of it all."
Berger has used that attention to promote the need for AEDs at all venues and was on hand last month when the Utah's House of Representatives passed House Bill 118 to create a restricted account of $300,000 for the purchase of AEDs to any municipal, county or state department of safety/law enforcement that routinely responds to potential incidents of sudden cardiac arrest, any school that offers instruction to grades 7-12 and any state institution of higher education.
"I'd like to put this all behind me," said Berger, "but I've thought about it a lot and if this had to happen to me so more people can prepare themselves just in case it happens to them, I'm OK with it."