|
|
|
MailTribune.com
  • COLLEGE BASKETBALL

    Back in the Game

    Ex-North player Berger returns to action for Utah State after heart attack
  • Danny Berger has long since put it behind him.
    • email print
    • DANNY BERGER
      WHO: Former North Medford player who set the single-season school record for 3-pointers before graduating in 2008.
      • WHAT: The 6-foot-7 junior forward is back playing following a heart att...
      » Read more
      X
      DANNY BERGER
      WHO: Former North Medford player who set the single-season school record for 3-pointers before graduating in 2008.

      • WHAT: The 6-foot-7 junior forward is back playing following a heart attack during practice on Dec. 4.
      • OF NOTE: A starter in the first five games last season, Berger is now a reserve. He scored 10 points in the Aggies' first exhibition game and had a team-high eight rebounds in a win over USC.
  • Danny Berger has long since put it behind him.
    He's back to living his life, as a college student and a basketball player. As a son, sibling, teammate and friend.
    It will always be a part of him. That's the impact of full cardiac arrest. It's a game-changer. When it happens to a major college athlete in the midst of a team activity, it makes headlines, and people want to write about it. Everyone, it seems, wants to write about it at least once, and there are a lot of everyones.
    Berger, a 2008 North Medford High graduate who is a now a junior forward for Utah State, was asked how many interviews he's done since and about that day on Dec. 4 of last year, when he collapsed during practice and was revived by an alert trainer who had access to the defibrillator that shocked his heart back to duty.
    "I couldn't even give you a number," he said by phone following a recent practice. "Probably 100. It's wound down a little since last year."
    It's liable to pick up again, though, as he's back on the court for the 3-0 Aggies, who will be playing in towns where the story has yet to be updated, or even written.
    "It's not a big deal," said Berger. "Being able to get it out there is probably good."
    He would prefer the stories be about him, the basketball player, or about his newfound role as an advocate for placing automated external defibrillators — the machine that saved his life — in as many schools and public venues as possible.
    On those fronts, there's certainly news.
    Berger's role has changed since the beginning of last year, when he started the first five games before it happened. He's now a reserve for an Aggies team that is well-stocked with small-forward types. Spencer Butterfield has moved to the first unit, and Berger — who also is learning to play power forward — provides a spark off the bench.
    Berger is 6-foot-7 and 205 pounds, up 30 pounds from his high school weight. He's averaging 3.3 points in 15 minutes per game for a USU squad that opened the season with a 78-65 win over Southern Cal, defeated UC Santa Barbara 71-64 Saturday and has drawn comparisons to the 2011 Aggies, who won 30 games.
    Before the season tipped off, and as Berger worked into shape for it, he also devoted time to speaking out on the need for AEDs. He addressed the Utah state legislature and helped get a bill passed that provides schools money for AEDs. He spoke at church functions and before nonprofit groups. He and his father, Brian, raised money to purchase an AED for Kids Unlimited in Medford.
    The cause is dear to him for good reason. Had Utah State trainer Mike Williams not had access to one, Berger wouldn't be here today.
    "Once it happened to me," said Berger, " I heard a lot of stories in other places of people going into cardiac arrest and either getting saved because they had one or not getting saved because they didn't have an AED, or they did but the batteries were out or the pads were bad."
    He attended a Hoops for Heart Health charity event over the summer in Connecticut. It was put on by the Ryan Gomes Foundation, which provided Utah State with the AED that saved Berger's life.
    It was there that Berger heard story after story highlighting the need for AEDs.
    Sudden cardiac arrest "happens more than you think," he said.
    Former basketball coach Ryan Klingler was among those who spoke. He relayed the tragedy his Fennville, Mich., community went through when high school star Wes Leonard collapsed and died moments after hitting the winning basket that capped an undefeated season in 2011.
    "He said he didn't want anyone to have to live with what happened to him," said Berger. "It kind of hit me pretty hard."
    Berger was far more fortunate.
    He made a quick recovery after having an internal defibrillator implanted in his chest, and his doctor was steadfast in his belief Berger would return to basketball.
    Berger was on the sideline in his lettermen's jacket, his left arm in a sling, rooting on his teammates just four days after the episode. He got on the court late in the season for light practice drills that didn't involve contact, then gradually took part in pick-up games last spring.
    "When I first started running and getting my heart rate up," he said, "I was paying really close attention to what was going on. I was just trying to ease into it. Once my heart started pumping, it was a weird feeling to get a sweat going again. I did it gradually and didn't go as hard as I could all at once. I just wasn't used to doing cardio, and that was the scariest thing."
    His teammates treated him with kid gloves at first.
    "I tried to instill confidence in them that I'd be all right," said Berger. "After a while, they joked about it and stuff, but I'm sure they were worried."
    The internal defibrillator, about the size of a half-dollar, is a constant reminder of what happened.
    Berger has a monitor in his room that reads data in the middle of each night and transmits it to his doctor. The information lets the doctor know if any adjustments need to be made, and if there's a malfunction, it can be addressed immediately.
    Berger has gone over the data.
    "They try to dumb it down for me," he laughed, "but that stuff is pretty complicated."
    Less complex are his duties with the Aggies. He's adapted well to his role as a reserve.
    In his first game back, a season-opening exhibition game against Central Methodist, he made 4 of 6 field goals, scored 10 points, grabbed six rebounds and had three assists in 17 minutes of a 108-88 win.
    Berger, who graduated from North Medford as the school's season record holder in 3-pointers, made both of his attempts behind the arc against Central Methodist, including a half-court heave to beat the halftime buzzer.
    "It was a really good experience getting back on the court after a time when I didn't necessarily know if I'd be playing basketball again," he said.
    Against USC, he led the team with eight rebounds in only 21 minutes.
    "I've been coming off the bench, and I actually like that role," said Berger. "I get to see what's going on in the game and can bring some energy in from the bench. I try to make plays when I can and be another shooter, another scoring option, and do whatever the team needs. Whatever the coach asks of me, I'm willing to do."
    It figures to be a successful season for a program accustomed to winning. Utah State has the fifth-best Division I winning percentage in the 2000s, behind Duke, Kansas, Gonzaga and Memphis.
    This year's team features four starters and eight lettermen off last season's 21-10 squad.
    "The sky's the limit," said Berger. "If we all buy into the system and stay together through the season, that's the biggest part. We have a lot of depth, a lot of weapons on this team. It should be a fun year."
    And one he's thankful to be a part of.
    Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com
Reader Reaction

      calendar