In his lone season with the Dakota Wizards last winter, Bryant Notree became a favorite player among Wizards' fans.
Now he'll have the chance to be one of their favorite assistant coaches.
The team announced on Friday that Notree will be moving from the court to the bench as one of new head coach Dave Bliss' assistants. Former Magic City Snowbears coach Rob Spon will be the other.
"This was the hardest decision of my life, and Ididn't take it lightly,"Notree said about giving up his playing career. "There were a lot of things to consider, but this was a good time for me."
At 29, Notree may seem too young to be calling it quits with his playing career, but the star guard has good reason.
Notree has the heart condition hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) - a genetic disorder that causes an excessive thickening of the heart muscle.
The condition should be familiar to basketball fans. Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis died from the condition.
"I've known I've had the condition, but for three years, I feel like I've been playing on borrowed time,"Notree said. "I've risked my life the last three years for financial stability, and now it's time to step away."
The heart muscle may thicken in some people due to high blood pressure or prolonged athletic training. With HCM, however, that thickening occurs without any obvious cause.
The thickening interferes with heart functions by reducing the flow of blood through the heart. The condition carries a high incidence of sudden death.
"Looking at what has happened to other players was a big eye opener for me,"Notree said. "… I was living on borrowed time."
Notree was diagnosed with the condition when he went for a routine physical three years ago. He couldn't believe what he was hearing, and decided to play on.
But the more educated Notree became about HCM, the more he came to realize that the risk of playing was greater than the reward for Notree, who has a wife and a 6-year-old son.
"I've got a family now, and they look up to me,"Notree said. "It would be selfish of me to continue to play.
"I've had plenty of offers to play in Europe, but it's just not worth the risk."
Notree said that he was hoping to make enough money to retire comfortably, which is why he came back to the CBA last season.
"I wanted one more crack at the NBA,"he said.
Notree said that walking away from playing is tough for any player - especially one who should be looking forward to many more years on the court.
"When you're an athlete at this level, it's not hard to feel like you're invincible,"Notree said. "I mean, I feel fine, and I'm in good shape.
"But (with HCM), you have no idea. You're not invincible, and it's not worth the risk for me."
Notree said he hopes to provide a liaison that bridges the gap between coaches and players.
"There's always a barrier between coaches and players, because a lot of times things are so different between them,"Notree said. "I'm able to understand things from the players' standpoint, and I'll be a coach.
"I think I'll be able to get between that barrier."
Notree said that he told the Wizards about his plans to retire as a player, and the team approached him about taking the position.
It seemed like a perfect fit for a guy who wasn't exactly ready to totally abandon basketball.
"The timing of the situation is great for me," Notree said. "I told themIwasn't going to play anymore, and they said if they couldn't have me as a player, they wanted me as a coach.
"I was going to be with them one way or the other,"he added. "This is a great opportunity for me."