It’s not often that a seven-syllable word rolls off your tongue. But that’s how it works for Carl Hall, a 6-foot-8 forward for No. 15 Wichita State.
He says “neurocardiogenic syncope ” - the medical term for fainting caused by the heart condition he has - fast, like “pick-n-roll,” despite his Georgia drawl.
The time it takes to say those two words is about the time it used to take him to hit the ground. One minute Hall would be running down the court at the recreation center in Cochran, and the next he was on the floor.
That happened one Sunday afternoon three games into his freshman season at Middle Georgia College in 2007. He was playing with other alumni from Bleckley County High, even though he had a practice that night.
That’s how much Hall loved basketball, and how much it hurt when he found out what was causing the episodes. First he was told it was dehydration. This time, doctors took a closer look.
At 18 years old, Hall couldn’t pass a stress test. The cardiologist said no more basketball.
For two years Hall didn’t play. He moved home with his mother. He worked the graveyard shift at Lithonia Lighting, manning the paint booth on the assembly line from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.
His grades fell, and he lost his scholarship, so he paid his own way two classes at a time, barely awake for them anyway.
“He got so depressed,” said his mother, Jackie Fields. “To see an 18, by this time 19-year-old boy, on Friday and Saturday night in the house looking at a movie, it was sad. For a while there, I thought, ‘This boy thought his life was over.’”
She feared clinical depression. The doctors kept an eye on that and his heart. Medication was helping, and on a visit to the family physician in August 2009, the doctor brought up playing basketball again.
“(She said) it’s up to you now to go out there and do what you can tolerate,” Fields recalled.
Hall didn’t run for the gym. His greatest passion was also the source of his greatest fear, and the thought of fainting again scared him. But with more encouragement from his doctor and his friends, Hall went back to the rec center.
“He said ‘I think I can do this,’” Fields said. “He was so inspired. It was like he had just won a million dollars because he didn’t pass out.”
Hall was playing again in a church league when word got to Middle Georgia coach Scott Moe, who welcomed him back. Fields still worried, but now Hall was doing the convincing.
“I said if anything happens to me while I play basketball, I can live with it,” Hall said. “She said if I can live with it, she can.”
Only once that season does Moe recall Hall complaining of dizziness before a game, so he rested him. From there, Hall averaged 18.6 points and 11.2 rebounds to help the Warriors advance to the national junior college tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.
That’s where Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall first saw Hall and began to follow him when he transferred to Northwest Florida State.
Hall fainted again at a game one night in Panama City, Fla. His coach had called timeout to ask Hall what was wrong. Hall said he needed some fresh air. On his way to the door, he passed out.
“It happens so quick you don’t even have time to lay on the ground,” Hall said.
He refused to go to the emergency room. But before the team would clear him to play again, they admitted him to the hospital for more tests, including a stress test, a tilt table test, and a heart catheterization.
The results pointed to another arbitrary fainting spell.
“They don’t know when it’s coming,” Hall said. “I don’t know when it’s coming. It just happens. They were saying it was nothing major. It was something that you can probably grow out of.”
With that in mind, Hall went to Wichita State. He was named the Missouri Valley Conference’s newcomer of the year for a team that advanced to the NCAA tournament. But both he and Marshall knew he wasn’t giving full effort. Sometimes running sprints in practice, Hall would stop.
“I was scared to push myself to that next level,” Hall said. “I’d get mad. I’d tell (the coaches) they don’t know how I feel. So they kind of backed off me.”
Marshall wasn’t going to push. As strange as that was for a coach, it wasn’t for Marshall. His first task at Wichita State in 2007 was to meet signee Guy Alang-Nitang. Shortly after Marshall shook his hand, Alang-Nitang died of a heart attack on the court in front of him.
“It’s the worst thing that I’ve ever seen in my life,” Marshall said. “I didn’t want it to happen again. But at the same time, Carl needed to get in shape. It was hard at times.”
Over the offseason, Marshall told Hall it was up to him to get in shape. Hall ran on the track, the treadmill and rode the stationary bike. When he got back to running “suicide” sprints in preseason practice, he decided to push it.
The NCAA granted Hall a sixth season of eligibility. He has averaged 27 minutes, up from 22 last season. Entering Tuesday against Indiana State, Hall was the Shockers’ second leading scorer (12.9 ppg) and leading rebounder (7.9 rpg). He missed seven games with a broken thumb, but scored in double-digits twice in his first four games back.
How the season goes for the Shockers is in a lot of ways, up to him. By now, he’s used to that.
“Once you go through something like that, it changes you as a person,” said Hall, 23, who hasn’t fainted in two years. “I tell my teammates all the time, the situation could always be different. We got it easy. We’re doing something we love.”
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