October 4, 2016
Outlaw excited to be back on the court for upcoming season
The junior college transfer sat out last season because of a heart-related issue, but was cleared in June and is ready to help the Hokies this season

By Jimmy Robertson

The Virginia Tech basketball team commenced practice for the 2016-17 season, but before the players take to the court, they go through head coach Buzz Williams’ rugged “boot camp.”

Yes, the players agree that boot camp helps with conditioning, improves mental toughness and builds camaraderie. Such things are great for a basketball team, but the camp is not fun and players often greet its arrival with a sense of dread.

Not Ty Outlaw.

Outlaw is a 6-foot-6, 220-pound forward from a small town in North Carolina who signed with the Tech program in the spring of 2015 after a season at Lee College, a junior college in Baytown, Texas. He views boot camp with a deeper appreciation these days. That’s because he missed last season – and thought his career was over.

“I was pretty sure I was done,” he admitted.

Tech’s sports medicine team, along with several other doctors, held Outlaw out last season because they feared that he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease in which the heart muscle becomes thick, making it harder for the heart to pump blood. The disease often goes undiagnosed because people with it exhibit few symptoms and often live normal lives. Yet it can be fatal.

Tech’s doctors became suspicious when a routine exam revealed an irregular heartbeat, so they sent Outlaw to a local cardiologist for further examination. Tech’s medical staff had dealt with a heart-related issue before when former player Allan Chaney was diagnosed with viral myocarditis, an infection of the heart, following his collapse during a pickup game in April of 2010. They never cleared Chaney to play after that, and Chaney transferred to High Point, where he ultimately gave up his pursuit of basketball after an in-game scare there in 2013.

The local cardiologist ruled Outlaw out after an echocardiogram revealed that Outlaw’s heart wall was thicker than normal and his blood pressure too high.

“I had no signs at all,” Outlaw said. “That’s what surprised me. I didn’t have any signs that would indicate that I wasn’t OK. When I first got here, I wasn’t in Buzz’s shape. With the trouble I was having in workouts, it was the same trouble that anyone would have. It wasn’t anything out of the norm. So I couldn’t say if it [his troubles] was the heart condition or his workouts.”

Tech’s sports medicine staff kept a close eye on Outlaw, refusing to let him participate in any workouts or practices. He essentially sat and watched, both during practices and in games.

He started taking fish oil supplements as a way to build heart strength and he started eating better. He took his medicine on schedule every day. He took all the tests, as the doctors continuously monitored his heart.

He did all of this in hopes of a positive outcome.

“I was worried,” Outlaw said. “My mother kept me level headed. At times, I wanted to say, ‘I don’t think it’s going to turn out the way I want.’ Even the doctors weren’t too optimistic. The coaches weren’t too optimistic, but as coaches, they stayed strong for me because they didn’t want to bring about unnecessary worry. But I was pretty sure I was done. I was sure my career as a basketball player was done.

“It all worked out for the best. There was a small light at the end of the tunnel and I eventually got to it after a long nine months.”

Earlier this summer, Outlaw went to see Dr. Robert Battle, a cardiologist at the University of Virginia Health System – and the last step toward a return to the court. Battle gave his blessing, and Outlaw resumed workouts in the Tech basketball program in mid-June.

Now he really feels like a part of this program. He hopes to add scoring punch after averaging 21.8 points and five rebounds per game at Lee College. He went to Lee after spending his freshman season at UNC Greensboro, where he played in 30 games as a rookie and averaged 5.4 points and 2.1 rebounds per game.

“Thus far, he follows instructions verbatim,” Williams said. “He’s very curious off the floor and he brings that same curiosity to the floor. He really wants to do right. He wants to understand what right is. He wants to understand the why as much as he does the how or the what.

“For 10 and a half months, he could not sweat, per doctor’s orders. He did as good of a job as anyone I’ve ever seen at eating clean and staying away from things that allow him to gain bad weight. He has done a marvelous job of getting his body ready. He’s got a great frame and a thick body.

“The thing we have to figure out with him is who can he guard? That will take some time to address. We’ve got to figure out as much of that as we can here in the preseason.”

Outlaw chose Tech over West Virginia, Oregon, Kansas, South Florida and others because of Williams, who is known for giving junior college players a chance and has developed several into NBA standouts – most notably, Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler.

“He doesn’t just recruit them and use them as practice players,” Outlaw said. “He actually started off in junior college as a coach [Navarro College in Texas]. He knows the background, and I felt he would understand me. I know a lot of guys with my height, size and abilities … he knows how to transform them into NBA-caliber players.

“My junior college coach knows him personally and Coach [Steve] Roccaforte, too. He said that I could trust them and that they would take care of me personally and as a basketball player. I put my trust into Buzz, and I’m glad that I made that decision.”

Outlaw probably fits into Tech’s rotation as a small forward or a smaller power forward. But that will be decided in the coming weeks before Tech’s season opener on Nov. 11 (season tickets can be purchased by clicking here).

For now, he simply fits into Tech’s plans. And that’s something he wouldn’t have thought nine months ago.

“I’m glad I stuck it out,” Outlaw said. “It makes me that much grateful to be here and have this opportunity. It shows me how fragile it is and to take advantage of it.”

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