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Ex-North star Berger set to finish career in Hawaii

Danny Berger has seen his share of ups and downs while navigating a college career in men's basketball. With one final year of eligibility remaining, the former North Medford High standout wants to make sure that he closes that chapter of his life on a high note.

Berger announced his intention to transfer from Utah State three weeks ago and on Friday confirmed his plans to join the BYU-Hawaii program in O'ahu.

"It's exciting but it also was a tough decision," said Berger, who turns 24 in May. "I think it will be the best thing for me and I'll be able to benefit not only next year but for my life in general."

Berger gained national notoriety after he collapsed from cardiac arrest and stopped breathing during a Utah State practice on Dec. 4, 2012. He was revived on the scene thanks to some alert assistance by athletic trainer Mike Williams, but wound up sitting out the remainder of the 2012-13 campaign after having a permanent defibrillator inserted in his chest.

Berger was cleared for action prior to this past season but wound up playing only 11.8 minutes per game in his third year at Utah State. The 6-foot-6, 195-pound forward averaged 3.2 points and 1.9 rebounds in 28 games, and shot 40 percent from the field and 23 percent from 3-point range.

While speculation has been that Berger transferred from Utah State to seek more playing time elsewhere, he said Friday that wasn't exactly the case.

"That's not really the issue," he said of the playing time. "I'm just looking for a better opportunity and this experience presented itself."

"It was a long up-and-down year (at Utah State) and I just feel like I can reach my potential at another place," Berger added. "I'm not going to say everything I was thinking when I came to my decision, I just think there's opportunities for me as a basketball player by transferring to BYU-Hawaii and it will help me out for the future."

BYU-Hawaii is a Division II institution so Berger is eligible to play right away, and also fits with his Mormon background and path toward a business degree. The Seasiders also recruited Berger out of high school in 2008, as well as after his freshman season at Chemeketa Community College in Salem. Berger chose Utah State back in 2009 prior to serving his two-year mission, but BYU-Hawaii finally landed its man after learning of his recent decision to transfer.

"They knew who I was and as soon as I announced my decision to leave they were all over it," said Berger, who was a key reserve at Utah State as a sophomore and a starter prior to his setback in 2012. "I've known some friends who have gone there and had a great time and talked to them about it. I did my research and talked to the coaches and talked to a lot of other schools and it just seemed like the best fit for me basketball-wise and also as a student."

Berger is one of four players to transfer out of the Utah State program, with one being starting sophomore forward Kyle Davis. Berger said one of the transfers, 6-10 junior center Jordan Stone, will be joining him at BYU-Hawaii and also be eligible to play immediately for the Seasiders, who went 15-12 overall and 13-7 in the Pacific West Conference this past season.

"I love Utah State University and I've had experiences here that I wouldn't have had anywhere else and you can't take those away," Berger said of his move. "Some stuff might not have worked out but I'm just really excited to make a change in my life and open myself up to new opportunities and new people."

Berger said he felt physically prepared for this past season and didn't experience any limitations, although it was difficult in the beginning to get back into the flow of things after the basketball hiatus brought on by his heart condition.

"It was a little harder than I expected coming back but I feel good from a health standpoint and feel normal," he said. "I don't even really think about it anymore when I'm out playing, I'm just kind of playing the game and enjoying it."

As he vowed from his hospital bed back in 2012, Berger has continued to spread the word on the need for automated external defibrillators (AED) at gymnasiums across the country. It was Williams' access and trained use of the AED that played a key role in saving Berger's life on that day in Utah.

For his part, Berger was named in February as one of the five Division I men's basketball players to the 2014 Allstate NABC Good Works Team. The award recognizes a select group of college student-athletes who have made significant contributions to the greater good of their communities through volunteerism and civic service.

The 10-person group also included five athletes from the NCAA Division II, III and NAIA levels. Joining Berger on the Division I list were Aaron Craft of Ohio State, Joe Harris of Virginia, Dau Jok of Pennsylvania and Jordan Morgan of Michigan. The group was part of the NCAA Tournament's Final Four festivities in North Texas, with Berger and company participating in a Special Olympics community service project.

Off the court, Berger has participated in Ryan Gomes' Hoops for Heart Health Foundation and, with his father Brian, raised funds last year to get an AED for Kids Unlimited here in Medford.

Berger and Williams have also been recognized and honored by the Utah State Legislature. They were on hand to see a bill passed by its House of Representatives that created 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 incidents or potential incidents of sudden cardiac arrest, any school that offers instruction to grades 7-12 and any state institution of higher education.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry