Harris counts his blessings after scare

Collision left cat numb for days

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 22, 2008 

John Clay

It was frightening enough just to watch, nearly three weeks back when Michael Porter and Ramon Harris' heads slammed together like coconuts, leaving both flat on the floor, Porter's jersey stained with blood, Harris prone and motionless.

Eventually, Porter rose to his feet, clenched his teeth for a few stitches over his left eyebrow and returned to action the very next game.

But Harris stayed on the floor, and stayed on the floor, and stayed on the floor that night in Rupp Arena, until finally they brought (gasp) a stretcher, and off he went to the hospital, and you hoped and prayed it was all just a precaution and everything would be OK.

Turns out, everything was OK, as Harris returned to action Saturday afternoon in Kentucky's whipping of Appalachian State. The junior from Alaska played nine minutes, perked up after some contact, admitted to some rusty and uncharacteristically spotty defense, and in post-game called his return a "blessing."

It was what came in between that provided the truly frightening part.

"It's a blessing for me to even play basketball again after losing feeling in my fingers and in my toes," Harris said in Freedom Hall after Saturday's game. "It's a blessing, because not being able to feel the feeling in your fingers and your toes, and doctors asking, 'Can you feel this? Can you feel that?' It's a scary feeling.

"So for me to even be walking again, for me to be able to hug my family and my teammates is a blessing."

See, we went on with our lives after that UK-Lamar game on Dec. 3. We went home to our routine. We slept. We worked. We ate. We played. We heard reports on Harris' condition, most encouraging, but we lived our lives. Harris lived with the pain, and the fear.

"The pain hurt so bad the next morning, I really didn't know if I was going to play again or not," he said Saturday. "I was like, if it's going to feel like this, do I really want to play ball? I mean I do want to play ball, that's my love. But when you can't feel your toes and all you can feel is your neck burning, you really start to think."

The X-rays and MRIs returned clean. No cracks in Harris' spine. No slipped disks. No permanent damage.

"When they told me that, that was a relief because the pain that I felt I just knew something was wrong," he said.

Though he appeared in Rupp three days later for the UK-Miami game, wearing street clothes and a cervical collar, Harris still had not regained all his feeling.

"It was like that Sunday after the Wednesday when I was fully able to feel everything," he said. "When I came to the game that Saturday against Miami, I couldn't feel my fingertips or my toes. But I could feel the palms of my hands (and) the bottom of my feet."

He feels even more now.

"For me to move my fingers is a joy every morning," he said Saturday. "The feeling of waking up and not being able to move, all you can move is your eyes, and you can barely move your neck is a scary feeling."

It was last Thursday that Harris was cleared to practice basketball. Even then, he was held out of contact. UK Coach Billy Gillispie hinted Friday that Harris might play Saturday, but it was a bit of a surprise when, 4:43 into the first half, the junior was inserted into the game.

Harris played three minutes the first half, six the second. He scored four points, grabbed two rebounds and took ribbing from his coach for his defense.

"If Ramon hadn't been in there, I'm not sure (Appalachian State) would have scored in the first half," cracked Gillispie.

"Coming into the game, I just wasn't focused," said Harris, but then, second half, going for a rebound, Harris banged into a Mountaineer.

"Once I got that first hit on the rebound, collided with somebody and nothing was sore and nothing was hurting, it really built a little more confidence," he said.

Harris said he still doesn't remember the collision with Porter, only "the doctors asking me what's wrong," though he has watched his head butt now on tape and has no problem watching it, because it was an accident, and he is fine now.

He will never forget it, however.

"My parents, they told me I need to cherish life a little more," he said. "Because something like that happens to a lot of people, and a lot of people aren't able to come out of it like I did."

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or (800) 950-6397, ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at johnclay.bloginky.com.

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