Calvary Christian Academy (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) center Elochukwu Eze used to worry about perfecting his timing on the hardwood to swat shots and finish plays in the paint. Sunday in Room 11 in Broward Health Medical Center, Eze’s ability to brush his own teeth drew more praise than one of his rim-rocking dunks.
“It was pretty awesome to see him do that,” Eze’s guardian Geoff Still said. “He’s got a long road ahead of him, but to see his motor skills get back is very positive.”
Last Thursday, the 6-foot-10 Nigerian sophomore underwent lifesaving surgery to remove a 5-by-5-by-4 centimeter tumor from his brain.
“It was pretty scary,” Still said. “Before the surgery the doctor thought he was going into cardiac arrest because his pulse rate was at 23 beats per minute so they had to treat that too. It was a lot.”
Last Monday, Eze began complaining of headaches so bad “he could barely open his eyes.” By Wednesday, Still was rushing Eze to the emergency room after constant vomiting.
“They did an MRI and found the tumor and things went pretty fast after that,” Still said. “He had a three-hour surgery the next day and everything went great. They got it all.”
The good news, according to Calvary Christian Academy coach Cilk McSweeney, is that the doctors expect Eze to make a full recovery; and, yes, that means he will, in all likelihood, return to the court at some point.
“More than anything we’re just happy that he’s going to be OK,” McSweeney said. “He came over here two and a half years ago and we’ve seen him develop so much. We started a gofundme account to try and raise money to bring his family out here to see him. We just want him to get better; basketball and everything else will take care of itself. We’re just worried about him getting better period.”
Still was reassured that Eze would be OK the second his Spanish teacher walked into the hospital room to visit him.
“He immediately said to her, ‘My grade is an 88 right now, but it’s supposed to be a 90,” Still said with a laugh. “It was really neat to see how sharp his mind was as soon as he saw her. He wanted his grade. He’s a really good student; he has a 3.39 GPA.”
This past season, Eze averaged six points and 12 rebounds a game for the Eagles and was off to a strong start on the Under Armour circuit with the Florida Vipers before complications from the tumor began to affect his play.
Eze had drawn the interest of Kansas, Stetson, Louisville, Maryland, Florida State and UAB.
McSweeney said he’s confident that Eze can not only retain that interest in time, but elevate his game and be an even better player.
“This thing affected his play in so many ways on the court and when he’s ready he’ll develop even more,” he said. “Concentration, stamina, everything will be better in time and that’ll draw even more schools than he had before. But, right now we’re just focused on him getting better.”
Still concurred and said that he’s mostly encouraged because Eze’s shown a high level of determination just days after his brain surgery.
“He has to go through oncology now and after that he’ll be doing a lot of physical and occupational therapy,” Still said. “He’s had a lot of support from his family, teammates, school and friends. We’ve been in constant contact with his family throughout everything and we’re hoping to get them here. Elochukwu is very strong spiritually and he’s never complained when the nurses and doctors ask him to do things, even if they’re painful. He’s remarkable.”
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