Abel Porter will not play for Ohio State due to medical condition

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Utah State guard Abel Porter transferred to Ohio State for a final year of basketball, and though he won't get that he did receive a diagnosis that may have saved his life.

Abel Porter thought he knew why he chose to come to Ohio State to play basketball.

Once a walk-on at Utah State, Porter turned himself into a starter and eventually a graduate transfer who had the opportunity to attend a number of different schools at various levels of the sport for one final season.

He chose the Buckeyes, he thought, because Porter could slot into a backcourt low on numbers and assume key minutes on a team poised to reach the NCAA Tournament.

Now three weeks away from a season that he won’t get to experience as a player, Porter said he understands the real reason why he came to Ohio State.

He came to the school to save his life.

On Wednesday morning, Ohio State released a statement that Porter’s playing career is over due to an undisclosed medical condition. Shortly thereafter, the 24-year-old Porter told The Dispatch that he has been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a genetic condition in which an enlarged portion of the heart can make it struggle to pump blood.

If not for Ohio State, Porter said, he almost assuredly would have no idea he was dealing with the disease.

“I’m a big believer in being in the right place,” Porter said. “Honestly, I’m not sure that there’s any other school that has the resources that that if someone passed out, you immediately would go to the hospital and do an MRI. I’ve had issues at other schools and I know that’s not the case.

“Eventually my life will be grateful that I came to Ohio State and that I found this problem and that I now know that I have a life-threatening disease that I need to be wary of. That must’ve been the reason I came to Ohio State.”

Still, it’s an admittedly bitter pill to swallow for a player who took a unique journey to get here. Porter spent his first two years after high school on a Mormon church mission in Samara, Russia, before walking onto the Utah State program. A broken foot limited him to only three games as a freshman, but eventually he played his way into a scholarship and starting role during his final two seasons.

As a senior, he started all 34 games for the Aggies and averaged 5.6 points, 3.2 assists and 2.4 rebounds in 25.7 minutes per game. He committed to the Buckeyes during the coronavirus pandemic, arrived on campus with his wife and newborn daughter during the summer and started to settle in with his new teammates.

Utah State transfer Abel Porter (15), shown here in a game last December against Florida, was expected to play significant minutes in his final season, at Ohio State.

“He is a tremendous person and I know he is very appreciative for the opportunity to be a Buckeye,” coach Chris Holtmann said in a statement.

Everything changed during a morning conditioning session roughly two months ago when Porter passed out within the first five minutes. He had experienced similar symptoms in high school, and at the time Porter said he went through some cardio testing in 2013 that did not find anything.

This time, Ohio State sent him to get a cardiac MRI and immediately held him out of workouts.

The MRI found an enlarged portion of his heart, but before diagnosing him with HCM Porter was sent for further testing. Blood was drawn and sent to a specialized cardiac genetic testing center, and then all Porter could do was wait roughly three weeks for a diagnosis while his career hung in the balance. During that time, he was allowed to do some light shooting and form work but nothing that would allow him to get his heart rate up.

The results came back roughly 10 days ago.

“My basketball career ended with that diagnosis,” he said. “One of the first steps in preventative measures is no competitive sports. Obviously there’s going to be more testing, a risk stratification I have to go through with some other sections of the cardiac center at Ohio State.”

His loss thins an Ohio State backcourt already significantly low on bodies. The Buckeyes currently have only two available natural guards on the roster in fifth-year senior CJ Walker and junior Duane Washington Jr. while Bucknell transfer Jimmy Sotos awaits an NCAA ruling on a waiver that would grant him immediate eligibility. Ohio State could learn the outcome as soon as next Tuesday.

The plan is for Porter to apply for a waiver for what amounts to medical retirement so the program can continue to cover his scholarship and he can essentially help the program as a graduate assistant. Doing so would allow him to finish his Master’s degree in finance and also keep him around a team Porter said he’s already grown to love and care about in a short amount of time.

While he waits for more about his own health, one of the harder parts has been the realization that the condition is genetic.

“Knowing that I have a daughter and having to worry about that with her now has really eaten at me and just added even more to the stress and worry,” Porter said. “I would also say that my wife and daughter, being able to spend time with them has probably been the biggest help in my life and just having a support system. I can’t imagine what it would be like if I was a 20-year-old kid out here by myself away from home and this had happened.”

Porter said he’s now hoping to use his journey and his situation to help inspire this year’s Ohio State team as it prepares to open a season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Porter noted that it’s an older team, one with mature players who helped him quickly feel at ease while he settled into the city with his family.

He’ll still be helping them. It’ll just have to come in a different way. It’s a change in plans, but that’s what Porter is realizing his Ohio State journey has been about.

“As much as I wanted it to be about basketball, as much as I wanted it to be about going to an NCAA Tournament, I guess I might’ve just had a different reason that I came here,” he said.