The person who finally decided something was seriously amiss with Matt Redhead was actually his 12-year-old sister, Sarah.
The day before Redhead and Fox Lane met Clarkstown South in last year’s Class AA quarterfinal playoff game, Sarah looked at her brother with his shirt off. She couldn’t believe what she saw.
“She said he looked like a chicken,” said Matt’s dad, Colin, during one of his son’s Slam Dunk Tournament games at the County Center this week.
The next night, Redhead and his team were overrun by Clarkstown South and its burly forward Justin Rivera. During the game, the Fox Lane coaches questioned Redhead’s effort and toughness and he was equally hard on himself, believing he had quit with his energy so diminished. In reality, his body had slowly betrayed him for weeks. He dropped 29 pounds all told and finished the season competing against an unbeatable foe: Undiagnosed diabetes that had completely sapped his energy.
“All the calories I was eating were being flushed out of my body,” Redhead said this week after a second straight strong game at the County Center. “I wasn’t really using them. I was just sort of feeding off of my muscle tissue. I could tell throughout the season, I couldn’t do small things — box people out, go up strong for layups or rebounds. I just felt weaker. When I got the diagnosis, it all made sense.”
What is now abundantly clear is why Redhead withered late last season and why he has started this one so well. The 6-foot-5 senior looked especially formidable Monday night when he had 23 points and six rebounds against Bishop Loughlin.
“He looks so much better on the court,” coach Mike Tomassi said following Tuesday’s win over Harborfields, which improved Fox Lane to 4-2. “He played 30 minutes today. I think he played 32 last night. In the past, he could do that, but he wouldn’t have given this kind of consistent effort on the offensive and defensive end. It’s not that he didn’t want to give it, his body was just shutting down on him.”
Never was that more true than in Fox Lane’s playoff loss to Clarkstown South, which left the Foxes a step short of the County Center. The next morning, Redhead’s mom, Anne, brought him to the doctor, who tested his urine and immediately sent Redhead to the hospital. He spent the next five days at the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in Valhalla recovering and learning how to cope with the disease.
Redhead, who now wears an insulin pump off the court, has adjusted his diet and learned how to monitor his sugar levels. He has almost perfected how his protein and carbohydrate intake can elevate those levels to a safe zone prior to games and learned which snacks and drinks can adjust them when necessary.
That knowledge, the extra weight (he’s up to 195 pounds after falling as low as 168), and his natural maturity has led to a spike in Redhead’s development and performance.
“His game has really progressed and now he’s healthy,” his dad, Colin, said. “So it’s both.”
Playing with diabetes is not uncommon, even for athletes at the highest level. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and former Gonzaga star Adam Morrison are Type 1 diabetics, like Redhead.
Redhead has maintained his aspirations of playing in college and schools are definitely interested. St. Thomas Aquinas visited him after Monday’s game against Bishop Loughlin and he has received plenty of attention from high-academic Division IIIs as well.
The diagnosis not only improved his health; it has also eased his mind. Once he discovered diabetes wouldn’t prevent him from playing basketball, Redhead has been focused on improving his health and his game without restriction.
“Maybe it shouldn’t have been what I was worried about most, but that was definitely the thing I was most worried about,” Redhead said. “When I heard them talk about athletes who have diabetes and deal with it all the time, it was great to hear. This shouldn’t hold me back at all.”