Allan Chaney gets another chance to play the game he loves

  • Allan Chaney poses in the Virginia Tech weight room during June as he was preparing for his return to the court.
Allan Chaney poses in the Virginia Tech weight room during June… (Brad Klodowski, Baltimore…)
August 18, 2012|By Connor Letourneau | The Baltimore Sun

Standing in the living room of his mother's Belair-Edison home late one summer evening, Allan Chaney raised his plain white T-shirt below his collarbone. He had just been asked to show his chest, to reveal the remnants of a more than two-year ordeal that threatened his life — let alone the once-prized recruit's basketball career.

Directly over his sternum lies a 3-inch scar, a byproduct of last March's surgery to remove abnormal tissue surrounding his heart.

But the scar tells only part of Chaney's story.

"At the time I got this, I felt like I was the king of the world," said Chaney, pointing to a circular image — half basketball, half globe — with a crown adorning it.

The tattoo, which the scar partially obstructs, was done in 2010 — the year NCAA regulations required Chaney to sit out after leaving Florida for a fresh start at Virginia Tech. At the time, he seemed fated for the riches of the NBA. He was set to become an unquestioned leader, a go-to player on one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's top teams.

But one spring afternoon, that all changed.

Chaney collapsed during an offseason workout in April 2010. He figured he was just dehydrated, but doctors soon determined he had a severe case of viral myocarditis, a potentially fatal infection of the heart that causes inflammation.

The setbacks began to mount: Specialists told him he would never be cleared to play again, Virginia Tech said he'd never be allowed to practice or compete as a Hokie, and acquaintances encouraged him to give up on his dream all together.

In May, a University of Pennsylvania cardiologist gave Chaney a second chance. He granted the 6-foot-9 forward medical clearance to resume his basketball career.

Now, the young man who felt like the king of the world in 2010 is ready to help set a precedent in 2012. He committed to High Point University earlier this month, and school doctors have cleared him to join its men's basketball team. He will become the only Division I basketball player next season to compete with a defibrillator in his chest.

"If I was a bum and I knew I couldn't hoop, I'd pack it up easy. I'd get into coaching or something like that," Chaney said in June. "But I feel like I'm good enough to play, especially in college. And I feel like I'm good enough to play at the next level, so I can't short myself."

'It was a wrap'

Chaney had just finished one of his best workouts since transferring to Virginia Tech. He estimated he hit 14 of 15 attempts during a shooting drill before stepping to the free-throw line.

But all of a sudden, he couldn't catch his breath. He was just out of shape, he thought. After all, he had sat out that year after leaving Florida.

And then he realized something was seriously wrong. Unable to breathe, he walked over to the sideline and took a seat. A team manager asked whether he wanted some water, and Chaney's last memory is answering, "Yeah." Chaney then fell out of the chair with the ball in his hand, lying on the floor in a fetal position.

A trainer administered CPR for about 30 seconds before Chaney regained consciousness.

"That probably was one of the scariest days of my life," said Malcolm Delaney, Chaney's childhood friend and former Hokies teammate. "I still didn't know what the situation was. I just thought he was maybe dehydrated or had like a light seizure or something."

The diagnosis was worse than anyone could've imagined. After a day of cardiac tests at a Blacksburg, Va., hospital, Chaney learned he had viral myocarditis. He had passed out from what specialists call a "cardiac episode," a result of the severe strain his condition had put on his heart.

Desperate for answers, Chaney visited a renowned heart specialist at the University of Virginia who said he needed an ablation procedure to remove scar tissue and prevent future inflammation. The ablation, which specifically aimed to reroute the electricity around the scar, was unsuccessful in lowering his risk of having an irregular heartbeat.

Of course, that didn't make it any easier to stay off the court. While home during the summer of 2010, Chaney played in a pickup game at a Baltimore YMCA and passed out again. A week later, he met with Dr. Mark Estes, a prominent cardiologist based out of Boston. Estes gave Chaney the opinion he had long dreaded: No doctor would ever be able to clear him to play basketball again.

Sitting in Estes' office, Chaney struggled to hold back tears. Just a few months earlier, he seemed destined for the NBA draft lottery. Now, he was grappling with the reality that his career could be over before it ever truly began.

"Basically he was telling me it was a wrap," Chaney said. "So, yeah, of course, I cried a little."

But after talking it over with his father, he decided he wasn't ready to give up.

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