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LaSalle wins state title weeks after coach’s heart attack

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April 1, 2011

By David Eck

ST. MARGARET MARY DEANEY — The LaSalle High School boys basketball team won the Ohio state basketball tournament March 25, as head coach Dan Fleming viewed the championship with a new perspective.

 

Fleming, 48, had a heart attack March 7.  Assistant coach Dan Goedde guided the Lancers through the final five games of the tournament, but Fleming was able to contribute from the bench during the semi-final and championship games.

 

“I had to take care of my health and worry about my family, and basketball is down in the middle of the list,” Fleming said. “There are more important things than basketball. I’ve always said that, but this year I really had to live it, and I think I did.”

 

Fleming, who has coached at LaSalle for 21 years, said neither he nor his doctor know why the heart attack occurred. He felt a pain in his shoulder for two days, but woke up March 7 sweating and with pain in his chest. He underwent a procedure to implant a stent, and is expected to make a full recovery.

 

The first week after Fleming’s heart attack was difficult for the team, said Ryan Fleming, the coach’s son and a LaSalle guard. Once they learned their coach was going to recover, the players were better able to concentrate on the tournament. The coach visited practices, gave them talks and watched games from the stands.

 

 “We used it as motivation to go out and win it for him,” Ryan Fleming said. “Everything seemed to calm down once we could see he was getting better.”

 

The team had made it to the regional finals in 2009 and 2010, but lost each time. With the bulk of the squad being seniors, they deserved a chance to make it to Columbus and play for a state championship, Dan Fleming said.

 

Even though he was sidelined, the coach knew the team had the experience to advance.

 

“It was just business as usual,” he explained. “As long as we have our players healthy, we have a chance of being successful because our players are good. We were going to be fine. They know what to do.”

 

With his father back on the team bench, Ryan Fleming scored 17 points in the championship game — probably his best game ever, his coach said.

 

“I liked it a lot better than him not being there or him being up in the stands,” Ryan Fleming said. “Just having him here and knowing what his position was really helped.”

 

Dan Fleming is beginning cardiovascular rehabilitation and getting more exercise and rest. The school has rallied around his family, which also includes coach his wife, Lissa, son C.J., 12, and daughter, Alexa, 9, sending cards, delivering meals and praying.

 

“The whole school supported us. Anything we needed, they were there for us,” Ryan Fleming said. “All those prayers seemed to work out.”

David Eck can be reached at deck@catholiccincinnati.org.

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