Men's basketball: Hall embodies Shockers’ toughness

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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His prescription goggles flew into the air, and Wichita State senior forward Carl Hall fell like a toppled cedar on Sunday.

Hall’s head smacked hard on the court at the Staples Center in Los Angeles after catching an elbow from Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas.

Hall was cleared of concussion symptoms, strapped on his goggles again and returned to the West Regional final of the NCAA Tournament after missing only 66 seconds of the second half.

“I just got an elbow to the jaw,” he said. “My jaw kind of locked up.”

The matter-of-fact explanation said much about Hall, a soft-spoken Georgia native who has overcome a heart condition that forced him out of basketball for two years, during which time he worked in a factory.

Teammates call him the toughest player on Wichita State, a 70-66 upset winner over OSU — a victory in which Hall contributed six blocked shots — that sent the Shockers to the Final Four for the first time since their lone appearance in 1965.

Wichita State won’t be intimidated against Louisville, the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, on Saturday in Atlanta, and not just because it has won a school-record 30 games, including victories over the top two seeds in the West Regional, OSU and top-seeded Gonzaga.

The toughness embodied by Hall, a sixth-year senior, permeates a Wichita State team that was runner-up in the Missouri Valley Conference and is just the fifth team seeded ninth or higher to reach the Final Four since seeding began in 1979.

“He is the heartbeat of our team,” coach Gregg Marshall said.

Hall is listed at 6 feet 8, although Marshall said his forward might be closer to 6-5 because he cut off his dreadlocks, which he wore for five years, days before the tournament.

The barber trip came on a whim, and was so surprising to Hall’s inner circle that he put the dreads in a plastic bag inside a shoe box and mailed them to his mother for proof.

“Carl marches to the beat of his own drum,” Marshall said.

The beat of his heart had been for what Hall was known.

Hall twice fainted while playing basketball during his high-school years in Cochran, Ga. He did so again in 2007 while playing at Middle Georgia College in his hometown. Doctors diagnosed him with neurocardiogenic syncope, which causes the heart to race and beat irregularly.

“It was scary at first, very scary,” he said.

Medically advised to quit basketball, Hall took a factory job in Cochran. For two years, he painted light bulbs for $12 an hour on the overnight shift.

“I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to be able to play any longer,” he said.

That changed in 2009, when doctors gave Hall medication to control his heart condition. He began playing for Northwest Florida State, a junior college where Marshall spotted him and offered a scholarship in November 2010.

Two months after accepting the offer, Hall fainted again on the basketball court.

“Coach called to make sure I was all right, but it was never a question that I was still going to play for him or that I lost confidence that I could,” Hall said.

Hall hasn’t fainted since, and he no longer takes the medication.

“The doctor told me it was probably something I’d grow out of,” Hall said. “I just pray every time before I touch the court.”

Marshall credits Hall for getting into better shape since arriving at Wichita State last season, when he was named Missouri Valley newcomer of the year and the team’s most inspirational player.

Prescription goggles also have helped Hall, who didn’t like to wear contact lenses.

“I squinted a lot,” he said. “A lot of the fans would say, ‘Carl, you look so mean.’ I said, ‘I’m not looking mean. I can’t see.’ ”

Now his Shockers are where few envisioned the No. 9 seed: in the Final Four, playing in Hall’s home state.

“It’s like I’m in a dream,” he said.

tjones@dispatch.com

@Todd_Jones

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