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Originally published Wednesday, July 27, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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NBA

Turiaf's open-heart surgery "couldn't have gone better"

A six-hour, open-heart surgery on Gonzaga center Ronny Turiaf was pronounced a success yesterday, generating hope that the 22-year-old Los...

Seattle Times staff reporter

A six-hour, open-heart surgery on Gonzaga center Ronny Turiaf was pronounced a success yesterday, generating hope that the 22-year-old Los Angeles Lakers draftee might play basketball again.

"We're just overwhelmed by the results," Gonzaga assistant coach Leon Rice said last night from Spokane, where he traveled to from the Bay Area in the morning. Turiaf, diagnosed with an enlarged aorta late last week, had the surgery at Stanford University Medical Center.

The hospital declined to issue information on the operation. But both a statement by the Lakers and one on Gonzaga's university Web site indicated the procedure did not include replacement of a heart valve, which, according to reports, would have decreased the chance Turiaf could play competitively again. Even in the best-case scenario, Turiaf wouldn't be ready for the 2005-06 season.

"Turiaf's valve was functioning normally and did not need to be replaced," said the Lakers' release, adding that he is "expected to make a complete and full recovery."

"It almost couldn't have gone better," Rice said.

Turiaf is expected to remain in the hospital about a week, then return to Spokane to begin rehabilitation. Preliminary plans have him likely to stay with Brian Michaelson, a reserve and team captain who graduated with Turiaf in the spring.

Michaelson was in the Bay Area Monday night with the Gonzaga coaches and a couple of athletic-staff members. Assistant coach Tommy Lloyd stayed at Stanford yesterday to greet and help Turiaf's mother Aline, who was due in from Paris in the evening.

Turiaf, a four-year competitor at Gonzaga and the West Coast Conference player of the year in 2005, was a second-round pick of the Lakers and played well in the July summer league. He actually signed a two-year contract, one year guaranteed, but the deal was contingent on him passing a physical.

After close examination, doctors found the heart abnormality. It was deemed a condition that could eventually kill Turiaf if untreated.

The Gonzaga Web site quoted Lloyd as saying he was told by a doctor that the first three months will be critical to Turiaf's rehabilitation.

"At that time, his overall progress will be re-evaluated," Lloyd said.

The Turiaf surgery created a whirlwind schedule for the Gonzaga coaches. July is a prime month for evaluation of recruits, and the program also has one of its popular team camps this week.

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Rice said coaches would alternate stopping to be with Turiaf on trips back to California this week.

"We just don't want him to be down there alone," said Rice. "My feeling is, we recruit the kind of kids who understand the importance of this. If we miss a game or two [of high-school camps], so be it."

Rice said the outpouring of support for the popular Turiaf in Spokane has been "phenomenal. That's probably been the most amazing thing to see. We knew everybody loved Ronny. Everybody's just been so touched by it.

"The whole world stopped here in Spokane."

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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