Notre Dame's Austin Burgett aims to keep playing

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

Dribbling and shooting and cracking pre-practice jokes with teammates Thursday made it seem like just another afternoon for Notre Dame sophomore power forward Austin Burgett.

But it wasn’t.

Burgett was back on the practice floor after two days of tests on his heart following an incident Tuesday in Tallahassee, Fla.

Having played 17 of 20 first-half minutes against Florida State in an Atlantic Coast Conference road game, Burgett had difficulty breathing. It felt like he had just run a very long way in a very short time. But he didn’t feel bothered by it. He believed some water and a seat at halftime would help. All would be all right for him to start the second half.

“I did that and I seemed fine,” he said.

Then he wasn’t. During warmups, Burgett’s chest felt like someone was sitting on it. Forget about it, he told himself. He made it up and down the court twice before starting to wonder if something was wrong. Really wrong.

“It just felt like my heart was about to come out of my chest,” the 6-foot-9 Burgett said. “I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t catch my breath.”

Team trainer Skip Meyer noticed something about him during a timeout less than five minutes in. Meyer asked if anything was wrong. Staring at the floor, Burgett responded that he was fine. But he wasn’t. Meyer saw that Burgett had turned an almost ghost-like white.

Meyer caught the attention of coach Mike Brey with just over 15 minutes to play in a game the Irish would lose by two and told him that Burgett was done for the night.

Burgett and Meyer returned to the locker room area with members of the Florida State medical staff, including the team cardiologist. An Electrocardiogram (EKG) was administered and indicated that Burgett’s resting heart beat was fast. Too fast. Like 115 beats per minute fast. A normal resting heart beats anywhere from 60 to 100 beats per minute.

Burgett was given an IV that helped slow his heartbeat. He returned to the Irish bench but did not return to the game.

“It’s a scary incident,” Brey said.

Meeting afterward with his sister, Morgan, Burgett casually insisted that everything was fine. Yeah, his heart might have been an issue, and it even felt at one point that it had completely stopped before rapidly continuing, but it was probably nothing.

Laid-back by nature, Burgett admitted Thursday that everything that had happened – and everything that could have happened – hadn’t really sunk in such a short time after the game. Eventually, it did.

“I think I was still kind of spooked a little bit about it,” he said of his initial ‘It’s OK’ reaction. “Just so many things were going through my head.”

Normally on a flight back home, Burgett would have tried to get a little rest, but sleep was not possible. Instead, he spent a lot of time thinking and also talking with walk-on guard Patrick Crowley. He even watched a movie – “The Departed.” When the team plane landed early Wednesday morning, Burgett had plenty of text messages from family and friends waiting.

Was he OK?

For now, yes. After two days of tests, Burgett was diagnosed with junctional tachycardia, an abnormally fast heartbeat. Tuesday was the first time that he experienced the rapid heartbeat since midway through high school during an AAU tournament. He figured then that he had simply slept the previous night on his chest and thought little of it.

“I guess it’s more serious,” he said.

He aims to keep playing, but also knows that if something doesn’t feel right, and he doesn’t feel right, he has to say something.

“I’m going to see how it feels,” he said. “If anything feels weird, just say something. I’ll get it taken care of.”

If there’s a reoccurrence of the rapid heartbeat, Burgett would have to undergo a procedure that could keep him out a week, maybe two. If he’s fine for the rest of the season, the condition will be addressed in the offseason.

Burgett hopes to play Saturday at Wake Forest. He might not. He had just started playing his best basketball. He scored a career-high 11 points with five rebounds in the ACC road opener earlier this month at Georgia Tech. He moved into the starting lineup the last two games against Virginia Tech and Florida State – the first time he’s started two straight games in his collegiate career. He’s been active. He’s been aggressive. He’s been easy to play with.

“He was really playing well for us,” Brey said. “I would love to move forward with him if he’s all-systems-go and he’s all cleared.”

Averaging career highs for points (3.5) rebounds (2.4) and minutes (15.7), Burgett aims to get back to his hustling ways not knowing if the condition may resurface.

“It’s always in the back of your head – is it going to happen again or when?” he said. “I’m just really hoping it doesn’t happen again.”

OK with Under Armour

Count Brey as a big fan of Under Armour, which finalized a deal this week to outfit Notre Dame’s athletic teams for the next 10 seasons.

“It’s all new territory for them and us,” Brey said. “I’m excited about the future of it.”

That excitement only has a little to do with a good sandwich.

Brey and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank hail from the same suburban Washington neighborhood in Maryland. They shared stories of the best place to get the best sub at a place called Continental in Kensington, Md.

But when Notre Dame’s deal with adidas expires in July, it will be more about shoes and gear than subs. Brey and the basketball staff plan to meet with members of the Under Armour design teams next week to discuss possible uniform options for next season.

The Irish are open to just about everything. Well, almost everything.

Brey wants no repeat of anything that may resemble the Shamrock Shake/Glow in the Dark green uniforms that adidas gave Notre Dame to debut last March.

“I wouldn’t do that again,” Brey said. “That was a one-shot deal.”

Irish power forward Tom Knight won’t have the chance to wear Under Armour, but the graduate student seconded Brey’s belief that the green highlighter look was too much.

“It was blinding,” he said. “That thing hurt putting it on.”

During last week’s game at Maryland, Brey met with exiled Irish guard Jerian Grant at the team hotel. Grant even acknowledged that a new brand of shoes awaits his return.

“Last thing he said was, ‘Hey Coach. Under Armour, man. That’s going to be really cool,’” Brey said.

TNoie@SBTinfo.com 574-235-6153 Twitter: TNoie@NDInsider

Notre Dame's Austin Burgett (20), right, blocking a shot by Duke's Jabari Parker (1) on Jan. 4, is expected to be back on the floor against Wake Forest. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN