"Don't ever underestimate the heart of a champion."
The now famous line said by former Houston Rockets head coach Rudy Tomjanovich after his team won the 1995 NBA Finals has since been overused by many spots personalities. However, it truly applies to
College assistant coach Will Kimble.
Kimble decided to play college ball at
University when then Waves head coach Paul Westphal recruited him.
“When I was [on a campus visit] I immediately fell in love with the school and the team,” Kimble said. “[The visit] was a good experience.”
Then, during a practice in November 2002, just one game into his junior year on the Waves, Kimble fainted while running a 3-on-2 drill.
Media Credit: The Daily Orange
After several tests at
Center, Kimble was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart muscle thickens and makes it harder for the heart to pump blood.
Hank Gathers died at age 23 died of the same heart complications while playing for Loyola Marymount in the 1990 West Coast Conference tournament.
Doctors told Kimble he shouldn’t be doing any athletic activities
He got a second opinion and the doctors agreed he shouldn’t be playing anymore, Kimble said.
Kimble had surgery to put a defibrillator in his chest to help monitor and pace the heart’s rhythm. The defibrillator may have allowed him to play, but Pepperdine did not want to take the chance. So Kimble stayed on as a student assistant while he completed his degree in advertising.
Kimble, 6-foot-10, 230-pounds at the time, played for a summer league and was being recruited by several colleges including UCLA, Texas A&M, UC Riverside and
Texas El Paso, he said.
The UTEP deal worked out due in large part to assistant and future head coach Kenneth “Doc” Saddler.
“He called me and told me he had cleared it with the president and that I had nothing to worry about,” Kimble said. “I felt it was a blessing to play the sport again that I love.”
While Kimble was being recruited by UCR, he met future Citrus head coach Rick Croy. Croy was an assistant at UCR at the time.
“I’ve always gone up there to their open gym and I built a relationship with Coach Croy,” Kimble said. “He told me if I ever wanted to get into coaching to just call him. I made the phone call one day and he said get down here.”
Kimble has had a huge impact on the Citrus coaching staff, Croy said.
“Every facet of our program has improved,” Croy said. “He’s a qualified Division I assistant coach.”
Sophomore center Richard Frohlich described Kimble as an inspiration.
“To have those heart problems and still play basketball, that’s big time,” he said. “He’s a champion.”
The 6-foot-9 220-pound Citrus center has also learned a lot from Kimble's experience playing the post.
“Last year we didn’t have a big man coach, and [now that we do] it helps a lot,” Frohlich said. “He’s shown me a lot of moves, how to rebound and how to box out. He motivates me everyday and I really respect him.”
Citrus Owls guard Darren Moore shares Frohlich’s appreciation for coach Kimble.
“He’s inspired all of us because he’s an inspirational type of person,”
Moore said. “He tells us about the heart troubles he has had and how we need to persevere. I listen to him a lot when he says things like that.”
Kimble said he hopes that if the Citrus players take anything from his , it is to never give up.
“Even if it seems some opportunities are not going to work out, just stay positive,” Kimble said. A basketball career is a small portion of your life. Continue being a good person and take advantage of the opportunities basketball gives you.”
Story originally published in the Nov. 14 edition of the
Citrus College Clarion.