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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Wichita State's Carl Hall is at heart of Shockers' surge

A 6-foot-8 forward who was long sidelined by a condition that led to fainting spells has become the inspirational leader in team's run to NCAA Final Four.

April 02, 2013|Chris Dufresne
  • Wichita State forward Carl Hall has served as the Shockers' spark plug through the NCAA tournament after overcoming a heart condition that kept him off the court for two years.
Wichita State forward Carl Hall has served as the Shockers' spark… (Jaime Green / McClatchy-Tribune )

From passed out on a floor to the Final Four — it has been a pulse-rate ride for Carl Hall.

"Oh man, it's been a long journey for me," Hall said.

Wichita State's senior forward, who overcame a heart condition that sidelined him for two years, has become the inspirational leader on the Shockers' surprising four-game run through the NCAA basketball tournament.

Hall introduced himself nationally at the Salt Lake City sub-regional as an undersized 6-foot-8 forward taking on Steven Adams, a 7-footer from Pittsburgh.

Two nights later, Hall was grinding it out inside against Gonzaga's All-American, Kelly Olynyk, in Wichita State's upset over the No. 1-ranked team in the country.

Hall helped hold Olynyk to an eight-for-22 shooting night, but he was miffed about getting only one rebound in the game. "Carl marches to the beat of his own drum," Wichita State Gregg Marshall said.

Hall, from Cochran, Ga., stands out on a hodgepodge roster of characters from a wide range of outposts: Canada, Las Vegas, the Bahamas, New York, Nigeria and Minnesota.

Hall is the Shocker who finally started wearing prescription goggles because, without them, he was Mr. Magoo. Wichita fans thought he was scowling all the time.

"A lot fans were saying, 'Carl, you look so mean,'" Hall said. "I'm like 'I'm not looking mean, I can't see. I'm squinting.'"

Hall is the Shocker who, for five years, meticulously tended to long dreadlocks before cutting them, for no real reason, before the start of the NCAA tournament.

"I sat outside the barbershop for like an hour, like, what am I doing?" Hall said. "I finally built up the courage to go in there and do it."

Teammates called him "Samson" and joked he was going to lose his basketball power, but Hall actually got stronger.

After the haircut, he put the clippings in a plastic trash bag, folded them into a shoebox and mailed the box to his mother in Georgia. "She didn't believe I was going to cut it, so it was kind of like proof," Hall explained.

Hall walked into the postal office and was offered insurance on his shoebox. "Nah," he said, "if it gets lost, it gets lost."

Wichita State would probably not be in the Final Four without Hall's hair.

Marshall has a rule prohibiting long hair unless you had it when he recruited you. Hall says that if Marshall had insisted on a haircut, "I would not have gone to Wichita State."

Hall's trip to the barber had the anti-Samson effect in the NCAA tournament. He scored 10 of his team's first 14 points in Wichita State's West Regional semifinal romp over La Salle at Staples Center on Thursday night.

In Saturday's regional win over Ohio State, Buckeyes star Deshaun Thomas went strongly to the rim and clipped Hall's jaw with an elbow. That sent Hall to the floor in a dazed state that reminded him how close his basketball career came to never getting started.

It has been two and a half 2 1/2 years since Hall passed out cold on a basketball court.

The fainting spells started in high school and forced him to quit basketball after only three games at Middle Georgia College. Doctors initially thought they were because of dehydration caused by playing in humid Georgia gyms.

He fainted, he guessed, about seven times. "It was very scary at first," Hall said.

He was eventually diagnosed with neurocardiogenic syncope, a temporary lapse of consciousness caused by a lack of blood flow to the upper extremities.

"This boy thought his life was over," his mother, Jackie Fields, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Hall took a graveyard shift at a light-bulb factory and did not play basketball for two years. He took blood-pressure medication to control his condition and, in 2009, doctors suggested he could resume his basketball career.

"They said it was nothing major," Hall said of his condition, "they said it was something I would grow out of."

Hall returned to Middle Georgia in 2009-10 and then moved to Northwest Florida State College, where he became a first-team junior college All-American in 2010-11 after averaging 17.6 points and 9.6 rebounds.

Wichita State signed him, and last year Hall was chosen Missouri Valley Conference newcomer of the year.

Hall no longer takes medication and is under no playing restrictions. He's averaged nearly 30 minutes per game this season.

Hall said it was only natural for him to think of worst-case scenarios. A few years ago, he watched a 1992 movie about Hank Gathers, the former Loyola Marymount star who died of a heart ailment during a game.

"It kind of shook me up," Hall said. "It kind of had me scared for a while. But I kind of got over that stage. But I think about that story all the time."

Marshall has been patient with the 24-year-old Hall, who received a medical waiver from the NCAA to compete in athletics this year, his sixth in college.

It's safe to say Wichita State wouldn't be in the Final Four without him.

"He is the heartbeat of our team," Marshall said.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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