Tyson Jolly Goes In-Depth on Cal Commitment

Tyson Jolly goes in-depth on his choice to commit to Cal, his harrowing ordeal with a pulmonary embolism, his relationship with Tyrone Wallace and his official visit in this jam-packed commitment feature.

When asked earlier this week about all the hubbub surrounding the $10 million renovation to Haas Pavilion, and how that helps recruiting, California head coach Cuonzo Martin said that the Bears, well, “We call it catching sharks. We’re trying to catch a great white.”

Cal’s latest commit – soon-to-be Scout100 wing Tyson Jolly -- is, for all intents and purposes, one of those great whites. He never stops moving, even in the face of death. It’s for that reason that Martin sees so much of himself in Jolly, who made his official visit this weekend, and committed while at dinner at Kincaid’s in Oakland with the staff on the final night.

A year ago, over a six-week period, Jolly earned MVP awards in two high school tournaments, averaged 17 points and 7 rebounds per game and saw his star rise on the national recruiting front, but he did it with one foot on Death’s door.

“We were at a tournament in Miami,” Jolly beings. “We flew, and I started coughing up blood. The doctor told me it was pneumonia. ‘It’s just pneumonia, but you shouldn’t be playing with pneumonia.’ But, we were in the championship game. I have to play. I played, we won the tournament, I got the MVP and we went back to Oklahoma. I still wasn’t getting enough air.”

Jolly’s coach wanted to sit him until playoffs, if he wasn’t getting any better, but, Jolly protested. He’s a shark after all, and he had to keep swimming. He had to keep playing.

“I was like, ‘Naw, coach, you can’t sit me out,’” he says. “We played in another tournament, won that tournament, and I got MVP. The next game after that, we had a late game, and I was looking bad in practice. My coach said, ‘You can’t play this Friday’s game.’ I said, ‘Why?’”

Well, he was sucking wind, for one.

“’You don’t look like you can keep enough air,’ he said,” Jolly recalls. “That Friday, my coaches talked to a specialist, and the specialist said that I had a pulmonary embolism, where I could pass out and die at any minute.”

A pulmonary embolism is a blockage of the main artery of the lung, or one of its branches, which commonly results from a blood clot in the deep veins of the legs or pelvis, that breaks off and migrates to the lung.

For two months, he played with the condition, thinking it was just pneumonia. On Feb. 11, after pre-game work, Jolly – already told he wasn’t playing – passed out in a hallway on his way to the locker room.

“I passed out in the hallway, and the coaches were like,’ Tyson, are you OK?’ I was looking at them like they were crazy. ‘I’m OK. What are you talking about?’” Jolly recalls. “I just fell, because I fainted, but I didn’t know I fainted. I thought I just fell. We went to the hospital, and they finally figured out that it was a pulmonary embolism. I had seven in my lungs, and they said one of them popped – a little one that popped – so that’s why I fainted.”

Jolly was taken to the Oklahoma University Medical Center, and a battery of tests showed that he had blockages in the main artery to his lungs, and inside his lungs were seven more blood clots, and more in the deep veins of his left leg.

A sharp hit to the back, taking contact under the basket – there were any number of ways that those clots could have not only ended Jolly’s basketball career, but his life.

He underwent a procedure to remove all the blockages from his lungs, and was put on blood-thinning medication.

“It’s crazy, now that I think about it,” Jolly says. “It really humbled me. I shouldn’t even be here. I was thinking about that a lot the last year, but now, I’m getting to play at a Division I level. Still, in the middle of the season, I was having a little trouble with it. We had a tournament in Las Vegas, and the doctors still didn’t want me to fly yet, because they had just released me, so I had to drive – and nobody knows this – I had to drive all the way to Vegas for that tournament.

“Our first game, I had gotten there an hour before, and I had 26 that game. It was a 20-hour drive to Oklahoma City.”

Jolly left Oklahoma City the day before the tournament, got there just before game time, and drove back the day following the tournament. He had to keep moving. He had to keep playing, had to keep swimming.

“I left Wednesday night, after school, and I got there sometime mid-day Thursday,” he says.

As a senior, Jolly averaged 20 points and nine rebounds at Oklahoma City (Okla.) Putnam City West, as he helped his team reach the state semifinals, and his recruiting profile grew, and the Bears, led by Martin, jumped in to try to catch a shark.

“Talking to the head coach, a lot of schools that were recruiting me, I was talking to the assistant coach, and the assistant coach, it’s good, but they don’t give playing time, they don’t make the starting lineup,” says Jolly. “Really, I was talking to coach Martin and coach Yanni, every day, since the day they started recruiting me in Vegas. Every day, they’re calling me, texting me, and I really built a relationship with them. I knew, if I went there, and I saw that it was home, that it felt like home, that I’d be fine, and Cal would be where I was going.”

All of that has led Jolly to this weekend, one he came into knowing that he wanted to be a California Golden Bear.

“I didn’t tell anybody,” Jolly says. “I just wanted to come out here to see what the players were like, if it was a home environment, because, especially being far away from home, I wanted it to be a home environment, and when I went, it was. It was just like my high school team, and it just showed me that it’s a family atmosphere.

“The coaches, they really took care of us. Coach Yanni [Hufnagel] really cares about you, coach [Tracy] Webster really cares about you, and we all got to talk.”

It wasn’t just the coaches that helped seal the deal for Jolly. It was the players. He got to go out with the current Bears during the evenings, and loved every minute, especially the time he got with Tyrone Wallace.

“That was my favorite part, going out to eat and just talking with the players,” Jolly says. “I told Tyrone, and I said, ‘I know you can probably go first-round in the draft, but I want to play with you. I’m not telling you to stay a year just to play with me, but I’m just saying, playing against you every day will make me better, and we’ll have a chance to win the Pac-12.’ He was just like, ‘Thanks, Lil Bro, welcome to the family, but I haven’t really made my decision, yet, but I appreciate you wanting to play with me, wanting to learn from me, but I haven’t made my decision. I’m going to make the decision that’s best for me.’”

It was Wallace who knew before anybody else that Jolly had made his decision.

“It was our last dinner, and we were sitting at the table, and I had already told Tyrone,” Jolly says. “I told him that I was going to commit later, but I told him, ‘Don’t tell the coaches.’ As we ate desert, I told them I wanted to be a Golden Bear next year.”

Speaking of future Bears, Jolly has talked with his other potential 2015 classmates.

“I’ve talked to Davon Dillard and Ivan Rabb,” he says. “Ivan hasn’t said it clear, but I think we’ll get him, too. He hasn’t said it like, ‘I’m coming to Cal,’ but I think he’s going to come to Cal.”


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