Jay Simpson wanted so badly to play basketball at Purdue that he committed to the school three years before he arrived.
A potentially fatal heart condition ended his dream three years prematurely.
The redshirt freshman has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition discovered by team physician Greg Rowdon and his staff. Simpson will never play basketball competitively again.
“This is very tough and upsetting news to take,” Boilermakers coach Matt Painter said in a statement provided by the school. “You never want to see a young athlete’s career end in a fashion like this. Jay had a very bright future in our program.”
An enlarged heart catalyzed the deaths of basketball players Hank Gathers, Reggie Lewis, Kevin Duckworth and Jason Collier. But Painter said Simpson was diagnosed early and is expected to “live a long and healthy life.”
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle, which becomes unusually thick and can’t pump blood to the body with the efficiency of a healthy heart, according to mayoclinic.com.
“HCM may lead to sudden death in young exercising athletes,” Rowdon said in a statement. “Its discovery precludes the participation in competitive sports.”
Simpson, who missed 24 of 34 games in 2012-13 because of a foot injury, will remain on scholarship and on course to graduate in 2016 with a degree in organizational leadership and supervision.
The 6-foot-10 center played in 26 games this season, scoring 112 points with 94 rebounds. He started seven times and averaged 12 minutes. The backup to A.J. Hammons, Simpson had not played since Feb. 23, when he left a game after feeling dizzy and lightheaded. Painter had remained mum on Simpson’s status, saying only that he was undergoing tests.
Simpson played 10 minutes in his final game, registering a steal, a foul and a turnover while missing his only shot in a 76-57 loss at Nebraska.
Though Simpson lost basketball, he may have averted a fate much worse.
Gathers, an All-American at Loyola Marymount, collapsed during a game in 1990 and died shortly thereafter. Lewis, an NBA All-Star, died at age 27 after falling to the ground in a light workout in 1993.
Duckworth, an 11-year NBA veteran, died in 2008 at 44 after he had retired. Collier, then a 28-year-old center soon to begin his sixth NBA season, died at his home in 2005.
Purdue said those four players all suffered from the same condition as Simpson.
“We are disappointed that he will not be able to continue his basketball career,” Painter said.
The 20-year-old, 250-pound Simpson was rated a four-star recruit out of La Lumiere, a prep school in LaPorte. He is from Champaign, Ill.
Team officials did not release any comment from Simpson on his diagnosis.
“This is very sad,” Indiana coach Tom Crean wrote on his Twitter account Tuesday. “He can be a person of impact, character and be very good at many things. We hope he realizes he has a lot more talent than just basketball.”