John Clay

Harris' health'a serious deal' for Cats

John Clay
John Clay

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Billy Gillispie had just finished his halftime talk to his Kentucky basketball team and was grabbing his suit coat when he heard the calls.

"Eric! Eric!" someone shouted. "Eric!"

The team was huddling outside the locker room. It's the normal routine before returning to the court for the second half.

Only things weren't normal.

"Eric!"

Sophomore A.J. Stewart was in the huddle. All of a sudden he noticed that his junior teammate, Ramon Harris, standing beside him, was starting to wobble.

Next thing you know, said junior forward Perry Stevenson, he looked back and saw Stewart with his arms around his teammate.

"I was just kind of in the huddle and we looked back and one of the other players was holding him up," Stevenson said.

"(Ramon) was shaking a little bit," said junior guard Jodie Meeks, "and we said somebody call one of our trainers, and he kind of like fell a little bit."

"He was about to faint," said Gillispie, "and one of his teammates, I'm not sure who, kept him from falling."

Unfortunately, Stewart was not one of the two players UK made available to the media for post-game interviews.

Eric was Eric Fry, UK's senior athletic trainer, who along with others quickly attended to Harris, before the forward was put in an ambulance and taken to DCH Medical Center in Tuscaloosa.

Eventually, after his vital signs checked out, and tests were run, the junior was released from the hospital and returned to Lexington on the team plane after the Cats' 61-51 win over the Crimson Tide. UK's medical staff planned to observe Harris further upon his return to Lexington and listed his condition as "day-to-day."

Only at the start of the second half, all the crowd at Coleman Coliseum knew was there was no Ramon Harris on the UK bench and no Billy Gillispie on the UK sideline.

Word circulated that someone had collapsed in the UK locker room. Then came word the player was Harris, the 6-foot-6 forward from Anchorage, Alaska, who missed three games earlier in the season after neck and back injuries caused by a collision.

Turns out, Gillispie remained with his fallen player until assured Harris was OK. Only then did the UK coach return to the floor a couple of minutes into the second half.

"It was kind of hard to focus at the beginning," reported Meeks.

"Once coach got back, he said he thought Ramon was going to be fine and we just had to continue to play, and get a win," said Stevenson.

That's exactly what they did. After scoring 19 points the first half, the Cats scored 42 the second. They overcame Patrick Patterson's foul trouble, 38.8 percent shooting from the field, 23 turnovers, and a teammate collapsing at halftime.

"I was scared for him," Meeks said.

There was reason for concern. It was Dec. 3 that Harris slammed into teammate Michael Porter during the first half of a UK win over Lamar. Harris left the floor on a stretcher. He remained hospitalized for two days with a stiff neck and muscular problems, and did not return to action until Dec. 20 against Appalachian State in Louisville. He then missed UK's next game because of muscle spasms in his back.

In the post-game news conference, the coach said he didn't know if Harris' collapse Saturday had anything to do with the previous injuries.

"It's a serious deal when a guy faints," Gillispie said. "(The hospital said) he threw up and they said that after that he started thinking maybe he was feeling a little bit better, but he had shortness of breath at the start, and that's probably what concerned them the most. But they said his vital signs were normal."

On a Saturday that was anything but normal.

"He knows that if it was one of us," said Stevenson of Harris, "we'd want him to do the same thing."

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