For The Love Of The Game
Jan. 15, 2003
By Chris Purser
There is an old saying in sports when it comes to playing though the pain. It goes a little something like this, "Pain heals, but glory lasts forever." However, what happens when an athlete's health becomes so much in question that he or she has to not only sit out a year, but requires several surgeries in hopes to correct and heal the injury. In many cases, they would just give up the sport they love, but not Ole Miss redshirt junior John Gunn.
"I feel good," said Gunn, after missing the 2001-02 season. "Everything is where it needs to be as far as my condition is concerned. Now it is just a matter of getting back into shape."
Gunn, a 6-foot-10, 260-pound forward, enters the 2002-03 season with a new look - he shaved his head - and a clean bill of health. But, that is only after coming off his second stint of extended illness that kept the native Oxonion off the court.
Gunn played in 22 games his true freshman year in 1999-2000, including 19 of the first 20 contests. He had a spectacular week in mid-January, averaging 10.3 points and 4.7 boards versus Tennessee, Kentucky and Auburn. He came off the bench to score 13 points in the upset win over No. 4 Auburn.
Gunn was proving himself a valuable reserve for the Rebels until he contracted mononucleosis and was forced to sit out the final 10 games of the regular season. That condition alone leaves most people unable to perform simple tasks. Gunn, though, returned to see limited action in the Rebels' run in the NIT that year. Despite having lingering effects from the illness, Gunn also played a pivotal role during his sophomore season. He saw action in 32 games in the Rebels' run to the "Sweet Sixteen" in 2000-01.
Entering his third season for the Red & Blue in 2001-02, Gunn was ready to build on the previous two seasons and take over the middle. But, during preseason drills, Gunn's health took centerstage. A kidney condition that had plagued Gunn since birth was starting to give him problems. The result was Gunn having to sit out the 2001-02 campaign as a medical redshirt and undergoing several surgeries.
"The kidney was blocked and it was not draining," Gunn said. "That was causing it to back up. They said that judging from the damage that it had been that way since birth."
Gunn initial plans were to have the surgery to repair the ailment and hopefully be able to return to the court in time for the Rebels' Southeastern Conference slate. However, things do not always go as planned, as Gunn soon found out.
"When I originally decided to have the surgery, I was told that it would be a simple 8-hour operation and everything would be taken care of," said Gunn. "Then I had to have another surgery and then another. I planned on coming back in January. The doctors told me I was supposed to be OK. Then right before I was to get released, I went to the doctor, and they told me that it was still not working and I was going to have to have another surgery."
That visit resulted in Gunn taking a redshirt for the season.
"Obviously, I had to (redshirt)," Gunn said. "I had already missed several practices and conditioning. After that final surgery, they finally got everything working like it was supposed to and got some of the function back in the areas that were damaged."
Despite all the surgeries, Gunn never thought about giving up on the sport he loves. The idea of returning to the court gave him the determination to suit up again and get back to work in Tad Smith Coliseum.
"I never thought about giving it up," Gunn said. "The only way I would have had to (stop playing) is if they would have had to take the kidney."
Gunn's decision to return to the court was backed by not only his family, but his teammates and coaches as well. He says that head coach Rod Barnes' care for his players is one of the reasons that he decided to attend Ole Miss to play basketball.
"While I was going through this, Coach Barnes kept saying the same thing over and over again," said Gunn. "He kept saying, 'Worry about your health first because basketball is only going to last so long.' Both he and my family were real supportive about all this. I couldn't have made it through all this without them."
While there may have been other reasons to return to the floor, the love of the game is the main one No. 31 is back in action.
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