Turiaf recuperating after open-heart surgery

Updated: August 19, 2005, 8:26 PM ET
Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Los Angeles Lakers second-round draft pick Ronny Turiaf said Friday he's well on his way to recovery from heart surgery and hopeful he'll one day wear the purple and gold.

Turiaf, who is recuperating here after open-heart surgery July 26 to repair an enlarged aortic root, said he will be cheering for his potential teammates this season as he works his way back into playing shape.

A decision on whether he can eventually play in the NBA is "way down the road" and up to his physicians and Lakers' management, Turiaf said, vowing to return stronger and better than before.

"I'm going to play basketball again," he said. "My heart is fixed ... there is no question. There is no need to tell me I can't play basketball if my heart is fine. So, I will play basketball, unless you don't want me to."

Turiaf, 22, was the 37th pick in this year's NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-9 power forward averaged 15.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.9 blocked shots as a senior at Gonzaga last season.

Turiaf's contract with the Lakers was voided when the potentially life-threatening condition was discovered in a post-draft physical, but the Lakers paid for his pre-operation medical costs and the cost of the operation.

His post-operation costs are being paid through a fund approved by the NCAA and administered by Gonzaga for student athletes in situations similar to Turiaf's, sports information director Oliver Pierce said.

Turiaf, who canceled a scheduled Aug. 5 news conference because of a severe headache, said he is feeling much better and has begun riding a stationary bicycle and dribbling a basketball up and down the court. He lost 25 pounds and is still weak and fatigued, he said.

His doctors told him he can start playing basketball again on a limited basis in about three months, Turiaf said.

"What does that mean? I don't know," he said. "Can I start playing professional basketball? Can I start having contact in three months? I don't know."

Turiaf said he wants to use his situation to show others that "you can come back from heart surgery."

He said he would like to try to return to Los Angeles and begin practicing with the team in late December or early January, but that will be up to the Lakers' physicians and management. He said he talks to them weekly.

While recovering this winter, Turiaf said he'll be watching his potential teammates on television. "It's a great team for me to watch," he said. "I'm going to pull for the Lakers."

The experience has left the popular Gonzaga star in a reflective mood.

"One day I was under contract and I was happy and I was going to play in the NBA and the next day my career is put on hold," he said. "I have no doubt that I'm going to play basketball again but, that can happen, so you better enjoy yourself and your family and friends. I'm pretty happy with the situation I'm in."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press