In Play with Tom Markowski

Former Romulus star copes with enlarged heart, continues basketball career in Buffalo

Basketball   | Tom Markowski

Former Romulus star copes with enlarged heart, continues basketball career in Buffalo

Buffalo – Three years ago Justin Moss’ basketball career appeared to be over. Diagnosed with an enlarged heart in 2011, Moss wasn’t sure he’d realize his lifetime goal of competing at the collegiate level.

Moss was one of the state’s best post players in ’10 and ‘11. At 6-foot-6 and well over 200 pounds, Moss was the main reason why Romulus was such a formidable team then. Coached by Nate Oats, Romulus reached the Class A quarterfinals in ’11, Moss’ senior season, Moss was selected first team all-state by a number of publications including the Detroit News.

He signed with Toledo and was expected to be a force in the Mid-American Conference for years to come.  

That August Moss took a physical. He was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or, simply, an enlarged heart. When informed of the results the basketball staff and administrators at Toledo put up a stop sign.

“They shut him down,” Oats said. “They weren’t going to let him play.”
Moss was uncertain about his future. His mother, Carmen Evans, was frightened and worried that her son would become depressed.

“It was a very scary time,” Evans said. “If he wasn’t playing basketball, I’m not living. He said those words to me.”

Evans took action. She took her so to see a heart specialist in Baltimore and it was recommended that Moss, if he wanted to play, most have surgery. That November Moss had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) inserted in his chest, near his heart. The surgery was a success but Moss’ needed a few months to recover.

“For a while, I couldn’t lift my left arm,” he said. “(The doctors) didn’t want me to do any physical work. It was painful.”

Evans said the doctors cleared her son to play but administrators at Toledo weren’t taking any chances. They refused to allow Moss to play.

Moss and his mother understood. On Oct. 9, 2006, Haris Charalambous, a member of the Toledo basketball team, died of an acute heart condition. A portion of Charalambous’ aorta tore away and blood seeped into the sac that surrounds the heart. The result was the heart was unable to pump properly.

Nevertheless, Moss was determined to keep playing, for a university or elsewhere.

“I was driving home from work,” Evans said. “I didn’t know where Justin was. When I found him he was playing (basketball) with his friends. So we had to find a place for him to play. Justin said he wanted to play and would play no matter what, even if it was (recreation) ball. So Nate found Indian Hills Junior College (IA). We signed a waiver so he could play.”

Moss played for one year at Indian Hills then transferred to Schoolcraft College. He didn’t play at Schoolcraft but he did finish two full semesters.

In June of 2013 Oats left Romulus and was hired by Buffalo men’s basketball coach Bobby Hurley to be one of his assistants. Of all the poor luck Moss had had finally this was a break in his basketball career.

“The first day I went to Hurley and told him about Justin,” Oats said. “We got with the trainer and explained his situation. We met with the administrators. His mom drove him to Buffalo and she signed some waivers for him to play.”

Moss, a 6-7, 240-pound redshirt junior now, played averaged 9.2 minutes per game his first season with Buffalo and this season he’s one of the MAC’s best players. Moss is averaging, 31.2 minutes, 18.5 points and 9.5 rebounds for a team that’s 13-6, 4-3 in conference play.

Buffalo’s next game is at home on Friday against Kent State. It will be televised on ESPNU at 10 p.m.

To safeguard the ICD, Moss wears padding on his chest underneath his uniform. He said he doesn’t even notices it.

“I don’t even know it’s there,” Moss said. “There’s no problem. I don’t even remember I have it on.”

Evans said she knows no history of heart problems in her family but there was a situation that occurred before Moss’ senior year at Romulus that caused some concern.

“He fainted during a summer workout,” Oats said. “We were playing in July. He took some tests and the doctors said his heart was a little enlarged and that he shouldn’t do any athletic workouts for the next three months or so. The first day of practice (November of 2010) he went to see the doctor and he said his heart had shrunk a little and cleared him to play. I didn’t think it was an issue. He played his whole senior year and there wasn’t any problems.”

Moss said he feels fine now and rarely thinks about his heart problem. He does recall that summer before his senior year and said he is fortunate to be where he’s at and that he was able to continue what has been a successful basketball career.

“I’m glad I found out early,” he said.

There are other people, like Moss, who might not be aware of a heart condition. One way to find out is to get checked.

On Saturday the Live Like Max Foundation is holding a free heart screening in conjunction with Beaumont Hospital. It will be held at Plymouth High School for high school students only from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. You must register ahead of time by calling 800-328-8542. It is estimated that 500 heart screenings will be conducted. These screenings include a blood pressure check, an EKG and an echocardiogram. A cardiologist will be there to discuss all results with the students and their parents, if they are present.

Live Like Max will also be accepting donations, selling t-shirts, wristbands and car decals.

 

(PHOTO CREDIT: University of Buffalo)