Story and photo by Brandon Steinert, Barton Public Relations Department.
Barton freshman basketball player Ty'Darius Harris refuses to stay down for long. A three-month coma, induced by a heart problem, derailed much of his high school basketball career in 2016, and nearly claimed his life.
When he woke from the coma, he had lost some long and short term memory, and had to re-learn to walk, speak and even use the bathroom. Doctors told him it would be two years before he played again. He was back on the court that same year, but it wasn't easy.
"I wanted to play," he said. "I tried my hardest but my body wasn't cooperating with my brain. I would try to do sprints and fall over. I kept working and working and eventually got back at it."
Barton Head Basketball Coach Craig Fletchall said his heart may not be cooperating, but it's in the right place. He saw something more in him than a disappointed high schooler when he joined the Cougars in 2017.
"You go through that and you appreciate things a little more, on and off the floor. It changes a person's perspective," Fletchall said. "I think he thought his stock had fallen and was disappointed he hadn't played as much [in high school]. He's an appreciative kid who just wanted a chance. He showed up and has been a leader for us."
Harris' present situation might feel a little like déjà vu, as a heart condition discovered on New Year's Eve has had him benched for the last two months, but his team spirit remains as strong as his resolve to get back in the game.
Knowing he would not be able to play in the NJCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship didn't put even the slightest damper on his reaction during the announcement that the Cougars had been granted an at-large berth in the tournament.
The whole team had gathered for a watch party to see who made it in, and broke out in celebration when Barton's name hit the screen. Harris didn't hold back.
"I got goosebumps and screamed," he said. "I lost my voice that day. We saw the Cougar paw on the screen and everybody jumped up. We spilled soda and pizza wound up on the floor. It was crazy."
Harris is scheduled for a procedure to fix his heart problems, then he plans to get back on the court as soon as he is able.
"It's an in and out procedure," he said. "I'll get right back in the gym and work as hard as I can over the summer to be the best basketball player I can. Then I'll come back here next year and we'll dominate, and see where I can go from there."
Fletchall said if anybody can bounce back, it's Harris.
"He's a really resilient kid with great work ethic," he said. "He spent a lot of time in the gym when he first came in August, more than anyone else."
Harris said he attributes his unwavering enthusiasm for the sport and love for his team to the tight bonds between his teammates and coaches.
"Each and every one of them has each others' backs, on and off the court," he said. "Everybody is on each other to make sure we keep our grades up. If one person goes to the gym they share a group chat with the rest of the team asking if anybody else wants to go. We're all a family and I'll be cheering them on from the side.
"The whole school, everyone at Barton, is like a family," he added. "The teachers work with you. They understand that some kids' backgrounds and where they come from can create challenges, and they try to work with them and push them to be a better person."
The Cougars will take on the tournament one game at a time, and Harris is ready to cheer on his team, which he says is the best around.
"I think we're one of the best teams in the country, just because of the way we play as a team," he said. "Everybody is from different places… Houston, Chicago, here in central Kansas. We have a variety of players from all different areas and we all just formed a bond on the first day.
"We all came here for one thing, and one thing only, to better ourselves."
About the NJCAA tournament
The Cougars received the 16th seed and is paired against 17th seeded Tyler Junior College for the opening game of The Tournament at 10 a.m. Monday at the Hutchinson Sports Arena. The winner will advance to take on top-seeded and unbeaten Indian Hills Community College in the 2 p.m. game on Tuesday.
Tickets for The Tournament begin at $13 for general admission, $7 for youth ages 4-12, and free for children under three years of age. Reserved seat price for evening games set at $16 with All-Session reserved seating tickets also available for $65 each. Purchase options include orders by phone by calling (620) 669-9846 or at the Sports Arena ticket office on game day as available.
Complete Tournament information including web streaming coverage can be found at the official tournament website located at www.njcaahutchtourney.com