BILLUPS NOT SKIPPING A BEAT

Jalen Billups is jogging up and down the court with the sweat dripping off his king-sized body.

With Glasgow Rocks negotiating the early stages of the new British Basketball League, there’s no holding back the American as he bids to hit the ground running – and justify the hype surrounding his talents.

A man mountain in almost perfect shape, except for the tiny scar in the middle of his chest that offers the only clue that the 24-year-old hasn’t always been able to go full steam ahead.

And why for a few frightening months, he didn’t just fear his hoops dreams were over – but any hope of a normal life as well.

It was December 2012 when he was going through the drills in a practice at Northern Kentucky University when, suddenly, his giant frame collapsed in a heap with his face planted straight into the floor.

“I blacked out for a second and then looked up and everyone was standing over me.

“That was the first sign. Originally, they just thought I was dehydrated. But I went to a cardiologist and he looked at the video of it and he knew it wasn’t normal.

“He figured out I had a type of heart disease. At the start, they told me I had to just shut playing basketball down.

“After I had a scan, I went to a different doctor in Minnesota and he cleared me to play – as long as I had the pacemaker.”

There’d been no warning signs, no history in the family of dodgy tickers. Billups had an irregular heartbeat and it meant going under the knife to insert a defibrillator to make sure he never skipped a beat.

There’s a long and sad history of big-time ballers who have died from heart issues, including Boston Celtics legend Reggie Lewis.

Initially, the docs were certain that the risks of playing on were too scary to even consider.

And Jalen said: “It hurt when they said I couldn’t play any more. I can’t lie to you, that was probably the last time I cried. It was terrible. It felt like it was all over.

“I have to give credit to my teammates there, and my family. I was so down but they brought me back up. I was thinking ‘what am I going to do now?’

“But they convinced me there was life after basketball, that I’d be fine.”

Plan B, at the age of 19, didn’t seem quite so exciting as a possible shot at the NBA.

“Maybe I could have worked with kids to develop their skills and show them that even if you’re diagnosed with something, life isn’t over.”

Neither, the medics eventually decided, were his playing days. It took several months – and a few tweaks to his battery in his pacemaker – but he was allowed to ease back until he was able bulldoze his rivals for fun again without a care in the world.

He said: “I was nervous but I was excited. There was a whole bunch of emotions going thought my head but I just wanted to compete again, to get back on the floor.”

It was his Mum, Kimberly, who was worried most. And Jalen said: “Once I got word I could come back, she was on edge. I said: ‘this is what I want to do so back me up on this.’

“She is still nervous at times. But she understands me. She is such a huge support.”

The family back in Cincinnati will be gathering around their screens to watch their foreign export make a fresh start in a new land following a brief summer spell Down Under.

And with the revamped Rocks desperate to end a 15-year wait for a trophy, the rookie is ready to put his heart and soul into becoming one of the Goliaths of the BBL.

Billups said: “It’s a process of getting higher and higher. The fact I get paid is a blessing. But I need to continue to show I’m better than the best person is.”

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