One day after the University of Minnesota announced it would not clear Jarvis Johnson to play basketball, the star Gophers recruit remained “in shock” by a decision he was “still processing,” family members told the Star Tribune on Tuesday.
On Monday, the Gophers released a statement saying they would honor the incoming freshman’s scholarship and provide a role for Johnson within the program but he would not be medically cleared to compete. Johnson has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a heart condition that led to a collapse in practice in 2010. Johnson’s personal doctor cleared him to play and he starred for DeLaSalle, winning four state titles while playing with a defibrillator in his chest.
The university told Johnson and his family of its decision at a group meeting on June 8, one week before the news release, Jarvis’ father Curtis Johnson said. Curtis Johnson said his son had undergone a physical and various tests at the university in the past two months but that the family was given no indication that anything was wrong.
“It seemed like it was a thumbs up for everything,” Curtis Johnson said. He said nothing has changed with his son’s medical situation.
University officials did not make coach Richard Pitino or deputy athletic director Beth Goetz available for comment Tuesday.
Curtis Johnson said he, Jarvis and other family members talked immediately after the meeting about not beginning Minnesota summer classes as planned to keep enrollment options open. But the father said they felt constrained by the timing and stuck to what he called a “rushed decision.”
“We felt a little misguided in the way the recruitment went, and then the sudden decision last week,” Curtis Johnson added. “Under the circumstances, time didn’t allow us to make an educated decision even. We felt pressured by it.”
Johnson, 18, already is enrolled in the university and started summer school classes Monday.
According to Curtis Johnson, the meeting was called by one of the team physicians and included assistants Ben Johnson (no relation) and Kimani Young, Goetz and two university doctors. Curtis Johnson said university officials told the family they “don’t know enough about the situation to clear him and to feel comfortable about his condition,” and the decision was made because “they don’t want the U to be liable.”
Pitino was not present at the June 8 meeting, but Minnesota senior associate athletic director Chris Werle said Pitino met with Jarvis Johnson in his office “a day and a half later.”
Curtis Johnson and Jarvis’ aunt, DeLaSalle girls’ basketball coach Faith Johnson Patterson, said Jarvis would not be talking to the media because the freshman “is still processing” the school’s decision.
“He’s a competitor still in shock,” Johnson Patterson said.
The family confirmed the school’s medical concern focused on the heart condition. Johnson’s heart stopped for somewhere between eight to 10 minutes after he collapsed during a 2010 practice. He went on to become a coveted recruit, and although Johnson fell out of the Rivals’ national top-100 rankings for his class a year ago, he still was considered one of the state’s top 2015 recruits and was Pitino’s first prep commitment from Minnesota. Johnson chose the Gophers over offers from Iowa State, Marquette, Maryland, Michigan State, UCLA, Wisconsin and others.
Islanders coach Dave Thorson was aware of the 2010 collapse, less than a year before Johnson joined Dela- Salle as a freshman. Thorson said on Tuesday he had “full faith” in the evaluation of Dr. Chris Carter — Johnson’s primary provider at Children’s Hospital — and spoke with the doctor regularly.
“When I first started working with him, obviously it was something that was probably more in the forefront because it had just happened and I had never had a player with [a defibrillator] and a condition like HCM,” Thorson said. “There is no question that as a ninth-grader, my radar was — as a coach, in terms of looking at him — always on a high level because of what has happened. But as time has gone on and being educated by the doctor and the process — not that my awareness was lessened — I saw him push himself at an extremely high level. All of the signs were all positive in that way.”
At least one other NCAA Division-I player — Buffalo junior forward Justin Moss — is playing despite being diagnosed with HCM in 2011 and having a defibrillator.
Between learning of the school’s decision June 8 and Monday’s announcement, Johnson played in the Inner-City All-Star Classic summer tournament this past weekend and was named tournament MVP.
Curtis Johnson said the university did not indicate that Jarvis could be cleared in the future.
A statement the university released Monday and attributed to both the Johnson family and Gophers athletics read: “While we are extremely disappointed, the health and welfare of Jarvis is our highest priority. We are excited that Jarvis has decided to accept his scholarship to the U and will remain a part of the basketball program. Coach Pitino and his staff are looking forward to having Jarvis on campus, where he will get an outstanding college education while supporting the team in any way he can. Jarvis has dreamed of being a part of the Gopher basketball family; and we are happy that he will be.”