Each Sunday during the 2016-17 school year, the Carson-Newman athletic communications department will shine a spotlight on a current or former Carson-Newman student-athlete looking to tell a tale of life outside of his or her respective sport.
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – April 12, 2016 should have been a normal day for Carson-Newman men's basketball's Andy Barnett. A day of classes, offseason training and maybe an intramural softball game should have been in the cards for the soon-to-be senior guard.
Instead, Barnett got served up a curveball.
"I woke up and got out of bed feeling a little dizzy," Barnett said. "After I showered, I went to put my shoes on and fell out of my chair. I stumbled over to (teammate) Carson Brooks' apartment and sat down on his couch and passed out. He came out of his room and woke me up, took me to the trainers, who took me to the campus nurse, who got an ambulance and took me to the emergency room. I kept saying, 'I'm 22 years old, I'm not having a stroke.'"
But a stroke was what the 22-year-old was undergoing. The Pigeon Forge, Tenn.-native exhibited all the classic symptoms – slurred speech, an inability to move the left side of his body and muscle weakness in his face.
Barnett said he was the youngest person on his floor of the hospital by 50 years. His parents were the next youngest.
"I wasn't scared while I was in the hospital," Barnett said. "I was more happy-go-lucky. But then it got scary. Once I got to Knoxville and they started explaining everything to me, it started to set it that I was actually having a stroke. The scary thing to me was that some people don't come all the way back from having one."
Barnett quickly made a recovery and was back on campus after a four-day stay in the hospital. However, it was more difficult for the doctors to pin down an underlying cause.
"It was uneasy," Barnett said. "At the beginning of summer, I was preparing to play my senior year. The doctor told me there was no reason for me to quit playing. Then my cardiologist told me that playing college basketball wasn't in the cards for me. During the stroke, I just wanted to get back with my team and get ready for this coming season. Then, as it set in, I was more worried about just being healthy in the long run and getting my movement back."
Doctors eventually concluded that there was an enzyme in Barnett's blood that made it prone to clotting. With his playing days done, the senior turned to other possibilities.
"When I was a freshman, I remember putting together a career plan with Coach Benson for after I graduate," Barnett said. "We'd been in conversation about getting my foot in the door to start a coaching career when I finished playing. It just happened to be a year early and with this staff."
So, instead of donning one of the Eagles' practice jerseys and running through the slides and steps to the Eagles' zone, Barnett is now wearing a grey sweat suit and making certain the Eagles' new crop of freshmen know exactly where they're supposed to be on the court.
"This is a hard thing to do," head coach Chuck Benson said. "Despite the fact that he played with these guys, he's done a great job of going in and giving guys perspective, feedback and encouragement. Our guys have been receptive to that and that's just been fantastic."
From the start of the ordeal to the start of the season, Barnett said he knows his teammates have had his back.
"My teammates have been supportive," Barnett said. "The day I had the stroke, they dropped everything and were in the hospital with me. Now they can come to me with questions that they might not come to the other coaches with."
This time last year, Barnett was on his way to an improbable run as the slam dunk champion at Mossy Creek Madness. The fact that he can't throw down competitively hasn't changed him much in his teammates' eyes.
"It's different because you're used to him being a player," Sophomore guard Zack Pangallo said. "He helped us as a player, but now he's helping us as a coach. He's still someone we can go to, it's just in a different role. Just because he's not playing this year, it hasn't torn him down or changed his attitude about basketball."
One of his roommates, Taylor Hawkins, sees only small changes in him.
"One of the hardest things I've seen in him is the desire for him to be out there to play," Hawkins said. "It's tough to stop playing unexpectedly. For me and the way he interacts with me, it's not different. Now the way he views the game, it's clear he's no longer a player. You can tell he's developed a coach's mindset."
Overall, the Eagles are just happy the three-point marksman is still around the program.
"We're happy that he's healthy," Benson said. "Last spring when he had the stroke, we were just stunned. We decided to let him jump on board with the coaching side. His ability to handle the situation with poise has been a great example of how to deal with adversity."
Barnett concurs, it was the program's culture and his playing days that helped him manage everything.
"Coach Benson does a really good job of preparing his players for any situation," Barnett said. "We have 'Poise' written on our wrist bands. That's what I really leaned on – being poised through the whole situation.
"There's going to be one more tough day for me and that'll be the first game when I go in the locker room and my jersey's not there waiting on me. It'll be a tough day, but I think the right decision has been made for my future."