NEW YORK – Julian Boyd heard the words no young athlete ever should. Doctors told him to stop playing basketball, and they weren't sure when or if he would play again.
Boyd is a strapping 6-foot-7 forward for Long Island University who had decided to leave San Antonio and play college basketball in Brooklyn.
Then he was told he had a heart condition known as noncompaction cardiomyopathy — part of his heart was enlarged. He learned of it from an MRI that was taken when he became dehydrated and experienced some kidney failure.
His life was about to change dramatically.
"He wasn't allowed to do anything," LIU trainer Danny O'Connor said. "In the spring they allowed some light weightlifting. Then he was cleared in July. He's been taking medication and his heart's working normally. He's never had any heart pain or chest pains, no cardiac symptoms during this time."
That's what frustrated the 20-year-old player most during his year away.
"It was hard being told you have to sit out when you don't feel anything's wrong," Boyd said. "It's not like someone who breaks their arm or leg or tears their ACL. They feel pain and know they can't play. I felt like I'm ready to play and they're not letting me play the sport I played almost my whole life. I thought I could play, but the doctors thought otherwise and that meant a long year."
When Boyd was told he couldn't play it was just a few months after he was honored as the Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year after averaging 10.5 points and 6.4 rebounds for the Blackbirds.
"There were several days Julian and I cried in my office," LIU coach Jim Ferry said. "I wasn't crying because I wouldn't have him as a player. I was crying for the kid."
Tests over the summer would decide if Boyd was going to have a sophomore season.
"As each test came along and they wouldn't clear him it would devastate him even more," the coach said.
Ferry knew a lot about crying over someone's else's heart.
"My backcourt mate at Keene State died a year after we got out of college because of a massive heart attack," Ferry said, referring to Johnny Jennings. "He never got to be in my wedding. He had a congenital defect they never knew about. I have his picture in my office and I explained to Julian, 'I don't want to have your picture in my office.'
"I tried to explain to Julian that there's a lot more in life than basketball. When you're young you don't understand that. We had some tough, emotional days. He felt nothing was wrong with him. I was informed by security people in the building that he was coming in at night and working out and getting into pickup games and I had to tell Julian, 'You can't do that. Let's get through the process.' That's tough for a kid."
During his season off, Boyd spent his time around basketball and his teammates.
"I was at every practice, every game," he said. "I sat down the whole time and watched. Sitting on the bench you see things you don't see in the game. I feel in that aspect it actually helped."
The watching was over in July when Boyd was cleared.
"I got that call when I was on the road recruiting," Ferry said. "He said the doctor cleared him. You heard how much it meant in his voice."
O'Connor said the training staff makes sure Boyd stays well hydrated and follows a healthy diet. Otherwise, it's back to normal.
Boyd is averaging 11.8 points and 8.5 rebounds, which is second in the NEC.
He had 11 points and seven rebounds on Sunday when the Blackbirds (7-4) beat Army 91-85. More than that, he had three powerful dunks and, with Army within three points, he came from across the lane to block a shot with 16 seconds to go.
Boyd was asked which is more fun, the dunks that had the crowd on its feet or the block that had a coach smiling.
"It's all the same. I'm just happy to get the block at the end but the dunks were pretty nice," he said, looking around to make sure nobody heard his confession, "I enjoy those dunks."
Dunks and blocks were the farthest thing from Boyd's mind in July 2009. Now he's just like any college basketball player except that he's playing in New York City, a far cry from his hometown where he was selected player of the year as a senior.
San Antonio has the River Walk and Brooklyn the Promenade. After that you're reaching.
"They both have their own good things," Boyd said diplomatically. "New York's a great place. There's so much to do. It's always fun to go find things to do. It's great to get to live here for four years for free."