This is not how senior Brian Walsh expected or wanted his athletic career to end at the University of Akron.
The Zips shooting guard found himself on the bench through no fault of his own Thursday night when the ball was tipped to start the NCAA Tournament game against Virginia Commonwealth at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Michigan. The Zips lost 88-42.
The flu knocked down Walsh, backup center Pat Forsythe and probably any chance that the Zips had to beat the Rams. To add misery to their misery, reserve guard Deji Ibitayo couldn’t play because of a bad back.
“After shoot-around [Wednesday] at the Palace, I came back to my room and it hit me like a ton of bricks,” Walsh said Friday after the team returned from Michigan. “I was just in my room and I started throwing up and kept going to the bathroom. I couldn’t control it.”
The illness took hold and wouldn’t let up, Walsh said.
“I tried to sleep it off, but I couldn’t fall asleep,” he said. “I was so dehydrated, [assistant athletic trainer Mike Macatangay] decided to take me to the E.R. around midnight, and we didn’t end up getting out of there until 7 a.m. It was the longest night ever.”
Walsh wasn’t alone in his suffering. He and Forsythe roomed together in the host hotel for the tournament, and when he returned from the emergency room, he found a sick teammate.
“I was expecting him to be asleep, and I came in and he was curled up in a ball by the bathroom, and he said he was puking, too,” he said.
They both took intravenous fluids before the game and have continued doing so since taking ill. Walsh said that he personally had taken five bags of it to combat the symptoms.
Up until game time, doubt existed as to whether either would make an appearance in the game. They both toughed it out to try to help their teammates, who were wilting under the pressure and speed of the Rams’ defense.
“All of a sudden, we go from playing 11 guys over 10 minutes of a game to having really a depleted team,” Zips coach Keith Dambrot said. “So unfortunately, [VCU is] too good to be able to handle that.”
It’s questionable as to whether the availability of the three players would have made a difference. The game had gotten out of hand by halftime, and the Rams forced 22 turnovers and dominated in almost every aspect. They attacked UA’s strengths and proved very effective in doing so. Walsh said he didn’t know if the ailing players’ presence would have made a difference.
“Obviously, I like to think it would have been a little different. I guess we’ll never really know,” Walsh said. “I don’t know if depressed is the right word, but it’s very sad and I just don’t understand why it had to happen with me being a senior and it being my last final game on such a big stage.”
Dambrot conceded that he doesn’t believe it would have made a difference.
“It wouldn’t have mattered. We didn’t handle the ball well enough to offset [the press], you know what I mean?” Dambrot said. “You have to handle the ball against them, and you’ve got to be able to break them down a little bit, which we really couldn’t do.”
For Walsh, it capped a difficult month in which he dealt with a lingering ankle sprain that limited his mobility. Point guard Alex Abreu’s arrest on felony drug charges also waylaid the team at the end of the regular season.
“It’s been a long month of ups and downs, a lot more ups than downs,” Walsh said. “It sucks that it had to end like this.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.