The human lung can hold roughly six liters and contains nearly 1,500 miles of airways. If a lung collapses it has the potential to be catastrophic.
Such a collapse has happened to 21 year-old Phoenix College basketball player, sophomore guard Cameron Isreal; twice.
Born in Maryland, Isreal moved out to Arizona with his mother at the tender age of three years old. It was around that same time that he met Arizona State basketball guard Jahii Carson who is headed for the NBA after this season.
“We pretty much just grew up playing basketball, having fun on the weekends, just kids being kids really,” Isreal said.
In fact, Carson’s aunt babysat both Carson and Isreal together as children. “We’ve been knowing each other since we were toddlers,” Isreal said. “I call him my cousin.”
The two grew up together but played on different AAU teams, Carson for the Compton Magic and Isreal for the Arizona Warriors. When it came time to pick a high school, Carson went to Mountain Pointe while Isreal decided on Mesquite High School in Gilbert. Sophomore year brought big changes for both players. Carson would transfer from Mountain Pointe to Mesa High School after his sophomore year while Isreal suffered something much more serious, the collapse of his right lung.
“I was having chest pain the previous night,” Isreal said. “My mom was like just like you’re growing, you’re growing.”
Isreal got up the next morning feeling better but as he walked in the front doors of Mesquite, he hunched over in pain.
“I tried to walk to class and I just couldn’t do it, I just couldn’t breathe” Isreal said. “I thought I was never going to play (basketball) again.”
Isreal made his way to the school nurse’s office before calling his mother who recommended that he go to the hospital.
After arriving and performing tests, doctors told Isreal his right lung was zero percent inflated, “It was about the size of my fist,” Isreal said. “ At first my mom was hysterical, she though I wasn’t going to make it.”
He spent eight days in the hospital recovering from surgery to inflate his lung again and was back on the basketball court within a month and a half. “I thought it was just a one time deal,” Isreal said.
As if the lung collapse wasn’t enough, Isreal’s mother suffered a heart attack the following year and the family decided to move back to Maryland. Carson and Isreal continued to keep in touch with Carson advising Isreal to “keep focused” and “stay hungry.”
Isreal finished out his prep years at Roosevelt High School in Maryland and signed a letter of intent to play basketball for Prince George’s Community College. That was until he received a phone call from Phoenix College basketball head coach Matt Gordon.
“One of his buddies that played for us mentioned that he wanted to come back out here,” Gordon said.
Gordon has won 185 games in ten seasons at Phoenix College leading the team to two final four appearances in the NJCAA national tournament.
One of those “buddies” was fellow Phoenix College guard and Mesquite high school graduate Isaiah Strong. “They said you can get a scholarship out here and I was like alright cool,” Isreal said.
At the same time Jahii Carson was getting recruited on a national scale, ranked no. 33 in the ESPN top 150.
“He felt like he had enough talent to do what he had to do in-state,” Isreal said. “ I had a feeling he wasn’t going to leave. I mean he’s a hometown kid with his family, all his friends and them.”
Since Isreal already signed with Prince George’s College, his move to Phoenix College was considered a transfer by the NJCAA and he had to sit out the 2011 campaign.
Coincidently, this was the same year Carson was academically ineligible at ASU. “We knew what we had to do and keep focused with school and then get in the gym and get better,” Isreal said.
The two text back and forth constantly and try to watch each other’s games whenever possible. Carson agreed that the friendship the two share is special, “He’s just the most positive person I’ve ever been around, he doesn’t say anything bad about anyone and he doesn’t get down on himself or anybody else.”
Both played on their respective teams during the 2012-2013 getting significant playing time and leading ASU and Phoenix College to postseason play. Carson lead the Sun Devils to the second round of the NIT breaking numerous program records and earning co Pac-12 freshman of the year while Isreal averaged 9.2 points per game and helped the Bears to the third game of the NJCAA national tournament.
Fast forward to four weeks ago. Isreal was in the Phoenix College weight room doing reps and jumping rope. “I was just doing some jump ropes, sat down, stood back up and felt another chest pain and I was like ‘man come on’ please,” Isreal said. “I thought it was acid reflex or something so I just sat down and as soon as I stood back up I felt my heart just racing.”
Isreal was suffering another collapsed lung, this time on his left side.
Isreal said it didn’t feel like the first time when his right lung collapsed so he tried to go to practice but quickly got winded after two sprints and coach Gordon told him to go see the team doctor.
“We didn’t know what it was,” Gordon said. “We didn’t know how major or minor it was and so we made sure he got it checked out and I’m glad he did because it possibly could have saved his life.”
Isreal was diagnosed with another collapsed lung and spent another eight days in the hospital but has since recovered.
“He’s a good kid who wants to get better, “ Gordon said. “His leadership is going to be important.”
According to Isreal both Newman University in Kansas and University of Minnesota-Duluth, NCAA division two schools, have been recruiting him hard.
“A guy who’s looking to make a basketball career out of this sport and try and make money and something like that happens a person can lose hope,” Carson said. “He just looks forward to the next day and to see somebody who’s so positive in their life have something so negative happen to them and still have a positive attitude about it is definitely something I try and bring into my life.”
Spontaneous Pneumothorax is the official name of Isreal’s condition. It is most common among tall, thin males such as the 175-pound, six-foot-two Isreal. Although there is no family history of collapsed lung, it could happen to Isreal again at any time.
Despite the risks, Isreal attributes his success and daily motivation to get back on the court and continue playing to his mother. He will find out today (Monday) whether or not he will be cleared to return to the court.
“My goal is to try and get overseas (to play basketball),” Isreal said. “ The doctor could have came in and told me I could never play basketball ever again so I just never take anything for granted now and always go hard.”