LOGAN — It has only been 11 months since a heart attack nearly took his life, but Utah State basketball player Danny Berger is ready to move on from being an amazing story to just another basketball player.
“All the publicity was nice," Berger said, "but I’m ready to get back to normal.”
It was Dec. 4 last year when Berger collapsed during practice. Trainer Mike Williams performed CPR and used an automatic defibrillator (AED) that was in the training room to restart Berger’s heart. Berger made a quick recovery in the hospital and was well enough to join the team on the Aggies' bench four days later when the Aggies returned to play against Western Oregon.
While it can be argued that basketball nearly cost him his life, Berger looks at it the opposite way. Instead of believing that basketball almost took his life, Berger believes it saved it.
"If I hadn't been at practice then I wouldn't have been near the AED," Berger said. "If that happened anywhere else on campus I might not have been so lucky."
Over the summer, Berger dedicated time helping install the same AEDs that saved his life at other facilities. Berger also participated in NBA player Ryan Gomes’ Hoops for Heart Health Foundation. Gomes’ foundation provided the AED used to save Berger's life. Along with his father, Brian, Berger raised money over the spring and summer to get an AED for the Kids Unlimited Activity Center in his hometown of Medford, Ore.
“I know how much Ryan Gomes' foundation means to me. I hope they never have to use it, but if they do and I can be the one to donate the AED. It would mean a lot,” Berger said.
When he wasn’t collecting donations for charity, Berger was in the gym practicing and hitting the weight room hard to work himself back into shape. With the Aggies loaded at the wing with Preston Medlin, Spencer Butterfield, Jojo McGlatson, Jalen Moore and Berger all vying for minutes, the coaching staff is looking at playing Berger at the power forward position in some situations. The 6-foot-6, 205-pound Berger might have a size disadvantage in the post, but his outside shooting could be used as a mismatch against lumbering power forwards and give center Jarred Shaw more room to roam in the post.
“It’s nothing but positive,” USU coach Stew Morrill said about having Berger back. “It hasn’t been much of an adjustment from our end because we’d had him out there a lot before. It just seems like it’s the way it should be that he’s back out there again. Danny is so stable and solid as a person that you always know where he’s coming from and doing what you ask. It’s great to have him back.”
All the hard work, hours in the gym and on the court during the offseason has already started showing dividends. In the first exhibition game of the season against Central Methodist last week, Berger came off the bench to score 10 points and grab six rebounds in just 17 minutes.
“It was a lot of fun,” Berger said of playing again. “It’s good to be back there in front of the crowd. It’s good to be playing basketball.”
His first shot attempt of the season came from behind the arc and was nothing but a nylon swish.
“I think it was meant to go in,” Berger added.
Practices and exhibition games are all good, but Berger is still working toward the real thing. Next Friday, Berger will suit up in front of his home crowd for Utah State’s season opener against USC on the same court where he nearly lost his life not that long ago. For some it might seem like a miracle, but for Berger, it’s just another step on his journey back to basketball.
“It’s going to be really exciting,” Berger said. “We’ve been waiting for this one for a long time.”
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.