Former NBA guard Ben Uzoh has dealt with Markelle Fultz’s rare injury before
Advice to the Sixers’ No. 1 pick from a baller who has felt similar frustrations
Ben Uzoh was worried Philadelphia 76ers guard Markelle Fultz might have thoracic outlet syndrome way back in the summer of 2017. Fultz was displaying his skills during summer league and showing why he was drafted No. 1 overall, yet Uzoh noticed the same symptoms that derailed his own NBA playing career.
“It looked to me like Markelle had the injury when I saw him play during a summer league game,” Uzoh told The Undefeated recently.
Uzoh’s observation ended up being correct, as Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome on Dec. 4. Thoracic outlet syndrome involves compression or irritation in the thoracic outlet, the area between the neck and upper chest. The second-year guard is expected to miss three to six weeks to undergo rehabilitation on his right shoulder, league sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Uzoh’s phone was abuzz after the Fultz diagnosis became public.
“When I first heard he was diagnosed with it, I had a lot of people reach out to me and say, ‘Is this the same thing you had and were dealing with?’ I was like, ‘Yep,’ ” Uzoh told The Undefeated.
“I need to see him. I was relieved for him. It brought peace and closure to me when I learned about it, as well as I hope it did for him. I’m sure he saw a lot of people just like I had to.”
Uzoh, who along with Landry Fields are the only known players to have had TOS, first began having symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome when he lost feeling in his right shooting arm as a senior at the University of Tulsa during the 2009-10 season. Averaging 15.3 points per game, he didn’t tell anyone he had a physical issue because he didn’t think people would believe him. So he tried to fix it by changing his shooting style, getting massages and ice treatment, and doing innovative stretching.
From 2010 to 2012, Uzoh played 60 NBA games total for the New Jersey Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors. He also participated in training camps with the Denver Nuggets and the Charlotte Bobcats. Through it all, he never revealed he was losing feeling in his right shooting arm. He also didn’t reveal his ailment during his next stops playing for G League Springfield and Tulsa.
But after being traded to G League Canton on Jan. 22, 2014, Uzoh told then-Canton coach Steve Hetzel that he had a physical issue and asked for help.
The Canton doctors, however, didn’t find a remedy for Uzoh. Hetzel said in 2014 that Uzoh then “shut down mentally. He went from one of the best players in the league to us playing four on five.” Hetzel once benched Uzoh for not competing during a practice because of the injury, and the team waived him on March 21, 2014.
“You can call it frustration, you can call it fear, you can call it whatever,” Uzoh said in 2014. “I was so in the dark. I was hurting not only the team but myself.”
Finally, in September 2014, Uzoh was diagnosed with the syndrome by Dr. Andrew Bennett in his hometown of San Antonio. After learning how to manage the injury, he said he felt so much better.
Uzoh, 30, has since played professionally in Africa and Belgium. He also played a vital role in helping Nigeria win all eight of its games in Group F this year to qualify for the 2019 World Cup in China, and he is expected to play in the tournament.
Uzoh is currently in the NBA’s apprenticeship program as an assistant coach for the G League Windy City Bulls, but he has not retired from playing basketball. He has turned down some playing offers, waiting for the right opportunity.
“[The NBA apprenticeship] gives you a head start on coaching, scouting, personnel, all that stuff. My plan is to do this and still play. If an opportunity comes [to play], I’m going to take it,” Uzoh said.
Uzoh plans to reach out to Fultz’s representation in hopes that they can meet. He offered some advice through The Undefeated to Fultz, who is rehabbing and was unavailable for comment, although a source said Fultz is familiar with Uzoh’s story.
“Listen to his body and take it a day at a time,” Uzoh said. “Therapy and his mental approach are No. 1. Stay away from things that would distract him as far as Instagram, the tweets and things like that. All of those things can negate and throw him off instead of speed him up. He probably has a timeline he has to follow. He has to stay the course in terms of what his people are telling him and with the course of action in place.
“It can be a long grind. A rigorous, day-to-day grind. He will see results, take one step back and two steps forward.”