July 23, 2005
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - There was never any doubt about Ronny Turiaf's heart when he helped lead Gonzaga to four appearances in the NCAA basketball tournament.
But news that the West Coast Conference player of the year needs open-heart surgery if he is to have any chance to play professional basketball hit the community hard Friday. Turiaf was a second-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Lakers last month.
Athletic director Mike Roth said Friday there was no sign that Turiaf had heart problems when he played for the Bulldogs, or with the French national team.
"He went through routine physicals each year," Roth said. "There was never anything that raised a flag or caused an alarm."
While Bulldog fans are disappointed with this bump in Turiaf's pro career, it is a relief the problem was caught and will be corrected, Roth said.
"For the Gonzaga world that loves him so much, that is the most important part," Roth said.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few was on a recruiting trip to Las Vegas when he heard the news Thursday.
"I talked to him today and he was in good spirits, and I relayed to him that we'll go through this together," Few told The Spokesman-Review in Friday's editions. "Obviously our staff and players are thinking of him, but I told him that all of Spokane is doing the same thing, too.
"We talked about getting him back up here after the surgery, too, because there's enough people up here who love him."
Indeed, the 6-foot-9 Turiaf became a one-name celebrity in the Lilac City, where everyone knew him as Ronny. A native of Martinique who was recruited by the Bulldogs after playing high school in France, Turiaf was known for displaying Gonzaga's triumphs and disappointments on his expressive face.
Last season he averaged 15.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
Turiaf held a news conference in El Segundo, Calif., on Friday and said he needed open-heart surgery to correct a life-threatening condition.
"I'm going to try everything I can to beat it," an emotional Turiaf said.
The problem, described as an enlarged aortic root, was discovered during a physical Turiaf took as a condition of joining the team, Lakers spokesman John Black said.
Turiaf, 22, will most likely have the operation in the next four-to-six weeks.
Black said it was too early to determine if the condition would be career-ending. The Lakers want to pay for the surgery, if the league approves, Black said.
Turiaf was characteristically upbeat.
"Today is just another setback, another hurdle I'll just have to jump over," he said, adding that many people face worse obstacles in life.