I feel for Kodi Maduka. I really do.
The 6-foot-11 center had his basketball career cut short on Thursday as the school announced that he is officially done with the sport. Maduka has a heart ailment, one serious enough to force him to miss game time on two different occasions during the season and serious enough that he collapsed during a practice in early April.
I’m sure there is nothing that young man would rather do than continue his hoops career. It sucks that it was cut short. There’s no other way to put it.
But today is not a sad day. Not in the least. Not for Maduka. Not for his family. Not even for Danny Manning and the Tulsa basketball team, who lose a guy that probably would have started at center.
Today should be a happy day, because while this decision means Maduka’s career will end with him finishing up his degree as strictly a student and not an athlete, it also means that basketball won’t kill him.
Maduka’s heart is a ticking time-bomb, one that has become all-too familiar for basketball fans, players and coaches. Everyone knows about Hank Gathers, who collapsed and died during a WCC tournament game back in 1990. Most in basketball circles know about Jeron Lewis, who passed away while playing in a game for Southern Indiana back in 2010. There are so many more tragic, untimely deaths of young athletes as a result of these heart ailments. It’s a subject that hits close to home for me. A friend of mine by the name of Stanley Myers died while jogging with teammates at Morgan State University in Baltimore.
It’s a nightmare that no one should experience, a nightmare that will never become a reality for the Maduka family.
Look, Kodi Maduka is not Anthony Davis. He’s not Andrew Wiggins. He’s not on a fast track to NBA stardom and eight figure annual salaries and millions upon millions upon millions in endorsement deals. Could he have made a living playing basketball? Probably, but there would eventually come a time when the ball stops bouncing, and I truly doubt that, at that point in his life, he would have the kind of money that would allow him to quit working.
And all of that is assuming that he stays healthy and motivated, receiving enough good luck to land in a league where salaries are guaranteed and are significantly more than what minimum-wage workers can make annually. The D-League pays less than $30,000-a-year.
Instead, Maduka will be allowed to keep his scholarship. He’ll leave Tulsa with a degree like any other student. He’ll struggle with figuring out what he wants to do with his life like any other graduate. He’ll get frustrated trying to land a job like every other kid in their early-20′s. He’ll be just like the rest of us.
Life goes on. Literally, in Kodi’s case.
Danny Manning called this outcome “heart-breaking” in a statement released by the university, which is ironic. It may have saved his heart.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.