All I could think about was Danny the whole time I was warming up. I just wanted to come out and play as hard as I could for him. —USU guard Spencer Butterfield
LOGAN — Spectrum magic will forever have a new meaning.
Five days ago junior guard/forward Danny Berger collapsed at the end of practice. He stopped breathing. His heart stopped beating. Saturday night he was back on the Aggie bench.
If it wasn't for an incredible chain of actions that started with team trainer Mike Williams quickly performing CPR, the story could have a much more somber ending. Instead, the 8,533 fans in attendance came together in the Spectrum, the same place Berger nearly lost his life during a routine drill at practice, to celebrate his return and watch his teammates start the process of getting back to normal.
"It was harder in practice than in the game because that's where everything happened," guard Spencer Butterfield said. "You obviously know exactly where he fell down, but we got through it as a team."
The game itself meant little in the big scheme of things. The Aggies knocked off some early rust, having not played in 10 days, and cruised to what would otherwise have been a rather unremarkable 86-57 win over Division II opponent Western Oregon.
"All I could think about was Danny the whole time I was warming up," said guard Spencer Butterfield, who replaced Berger in the Aggies' starting lineup. "I just wanted to come out and play as hard as I could for him."
Berger, having just been released from the hospital Saturday morning, came down the tunnel with the team and watched the game from the end of the bench. He traded in his uniform for a letterman's jacket, his arm in a sling after undergoing surgery that placed a defibrillator in his heart to prevent an episode like this from ever happening again. Otherwise he looked a lot like the same player that just suited up for the Aggies just over a week ago, not the young man who was in ICU just a few days ago.
"Obviously it's been a very tough week on everyone — coaches, players, Danny and his family," guard Preston Medlin said. "It was good to see Danny back there tonight."
Not only was Berger able to return to watch the game from the bench, doctors think he may even be able to play again. Barring any setbacks, Berger will likely be cleared for light physical activity in a few weeks and may be able to return to the court after that, something that was unthinkable when he was fighting for his life earlier this week.
"He actually came into the coaches' room and we all got to give him a hug before the team saw him. My comment to him was 'we need to get you back as soon as possible,'" Morrill said with a laugh.
Morrill spent much of his week in Murray with Danny in the hospital, and while he wants to see Berger back on the court as soon as possible, he knows it's still a long way away from becoming a reality.2 comments on this story
"First and foremost is can he play again and make sure we do things slowly and make sure everything that's OK before that even starts to be a consideration," Morrill added. "He wants to hear that we need him and that he can play again. That's what he needs to hear from me and if his doctors are telling him that, far be it from his coach to not tell him that.
"We are very optimistic there. Great response from the crowd, it's just all good stuff compared to where we were Tuesday."
The head coach is still worried that the team doesn't practice well enough, turns over the ball too much and can struggle on defense at times. But, all things considered, those are good problems to have.