WCC player of the year's pro career in jeopardy

Updated: July 22, 2005, 4:27 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Ronny Turiaf, the West Coast Conference player of the year at Gonzaga and a second-round pick of the Los Angeles Lakers, has an enlarged aortic root in his heart and will need open-heart surgery, possibly ending his pro career before it starts.

"I'm going to try everything I can to beat it," an emotional Turiaf said Friday.

The condition was discovered during extensive medical testing in Los Angeles.

Lakers spokesman John Black said Turiaf would have open-heart surgery in four to six weeks.

Black said examinations of Turiaf a couple of years ago and earlier this year at the predraft camp turned up an abnormality. In both instances doctors didn't think it was serious and cleared him to play. Further examinations by the Lakers' physicians turned up the more serious problem, Black said, and other independent experts confirmed it.

"Obviously he's disappointed," Black told The Associated Press on Thursday night. "I think it's fair to say he's anxious and somewhat scared to have to undergo open heart surgery. But now that he's had time for it to sink in, and looking at the big picture, he's hopeful for his future."

Black said it was too early to determine if the condition would be career-ending.

"We don't want to speculate on that, but obviously we're hopeful that if things go well he will be able to [play again]," Black said.

The good news, Black added, is that catching the condition now likely saved Turiaf's life.

Turiaf thanked teammate Kobe Bryant and fans for their support and vowed to get past the condition so he can help his family.

"Today is just another setback, another hurdle I'll just have to jump over," he said.

It wasn't clear what impact Turiaf's loss will have on the team this season.

"He would have still had to go to training camp and earn a spot on the team," Black said. "But he did fill a role at power forward that we thought we needed help at."

The Lakers selected the 6-foot-9 Turiaf, who was originally from France, with the 37th pick in the June 28 draft. He averaged 15.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.9 blocked shots as a senior at Gonzaga last season. He was the Lakers' second pick behind 17-year-old center Andrew Bynum of St. Joseph High in Metuchen, N.J.

Los Angeles signed Turiaf to a two-year guaranteed contract on July 14. He played for the Lakers in a Summer Pro League and was averaging 14 points and 4.7 rebounds in 21.9 minutes a game. Turiaf, 22, was held out of the final four games of the summer league.

Ndiaye said Turiaf would remain in Los Angeles to meet with more doctors Friday before determining when and where to have surgery.

"His aorta is too large for his heart," Ndiaye said. "This is open-heart surgery. He could come back if everything goes OK and he works hard."

Ndiaye said the contract would be voided but Lakers owner Jerry Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak would "take care of the medical costs and told us they would keep his rights."

"They are showing us the good human part," Ndiaye said. "Ronny is down. He's a winner and he's determined to get back one day."

Black said the contract Turiaf signed was conditional on passing the physical and once he didn't, the contract becomes void. But Black said the league lawyers might not agree with that interpretation. Black said the Lakers want to pay the medical costs, but once again this is up to the league's interpretation of his contract.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few, who spoke with Turiaf on Thursday night, said Turiaf was in the best condition he had seen him in when he visited Turiaf at the Chicago predraft camp in June.

"We're in a state of shock," Few said. "We're going to be by Ronny's side during this entire ordeal. Our staff, our players and the entire community of Spokane are behind him. He's meant so much to all of us. We're going to see him through this and get him back healthy. There will be a lot of thoughts and prayers coming out of Spokane."

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com