He does not know when he puts on his jersey if he’ll get to play.
But he does know when he steps out onto the court that in a way, he’s risking his life.
Last week, with a minute and 27 seconds left in Ohio State’s second-round rout of UT-San Antonio, the Cleveland crowd at Quicken Loans Arena chanted for Eddie Days (below right).
“Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!” they screamed.
They got their wish and he got his: A few minutes in the NCAA tournament. Coach Thad Matta put the Cleveland native in the game long enough to take one shot in the 75-46 win. The walk-on missed, but it was a victory just to be on the floor.
“I remember the doctor saying I may never be able to play again,” Days says. “It scares you at the time but I’ve been fortunate to keep going.”
On another court -- the practice court at Richmond Heights (Ohio) High -- six years ago, Days collapsed during an early morning practice. Tests revealed he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy -- extra-thick muscles in his heart which could block blood flow to his brain.
Doctors from his high school and at Ohio State worried he was at risk for sudden cardiac death, a condition that claimed the lives of Boston Celtics player Reggie Lewis and, most recently, Fennville (Mich.) High senior Wes Leonard. It also famously claimed the life of Loyola Marymount star Hank Gathers in 1990.
“I hear about a lot of kids who haven’t been as fortunate as me,” Days says. “Kids who did not wake up -- the guy in Michigan. Sometimes it’s in the back of your head when you’re running those early morning miles.”
Doctors say the chance of something terrible happening to Days is very small. He was cleared to play basketball again in high school with the aid of medication. A handful of Division III offers greeted him on his return to the court in his senior year of high school.
But Days had his sights set on Ohio State, and so he went to Columbus without a scholarship.
By the time Ohio State doctors cleared him his freshman year, the roster was full. The Buckeyes didn’t take walk-ons his sophomore year.
Days tried out his junior year, and finally Ohio State had a spot for him.
“He came in and tried out in ’07 and we were keeping him on the team, he was good enough,” Matta says. “We wanted him to get [the heart condition] squared away. He came back and practiced with the women’s team for two years, tried back out, and obviously we took him.”
Days has played just 24 minutes in two seasons, but probably none quite as memorable as his three-minute appearance in Sunday’s third-round runaway win over George Mason.
After being cheered onto the court two days earlier and leaving empty handed, Days found himself on the free throw line, shooting two. He hit the first one.
It was the first point of his collegiate career.
Days says he relishes the opportunity. He realizes others –- like Gathers and Leonard -– haven’t been as lucky. For now, and hopefully for years and years, the risk is worth the reward.
“I pretty much leave it in God’s hands,” Days says. “I try not to let [the condition] hold me back. I try to go as if I don’t have it.”