Tyson Jolly's world was smothered by darkness.
Putnam City West's then-junior guard went from one of Oklahoma City's most electrifying playmakers to a young man plagued by restless uncertainty. There was a dreadful fear of the unknown.
It had all unfolded so rapidly.
After sustaining a nasty spill during a game, the seven blood clots found in Jolly's lungs forced the 6-foot-4, 200-pound combination guard to shut it down for the season.
His legs were also hampered by this case of pulmonary embolism, rendering him immovable for the final 13 games of his junior year.
The timing couldn't have been worse. Putnam City West had reeled off 18 straight wins, with state championship aspirations well in view.
Jolly now had to come to grips with a larger issue, one far greater than basketball.
Pulmonary Embolism, which Jolly survived, was initially categorized as life-threatening for the teenager. Jolly has vivid recollections of lying in a hospital bed, struggling to manage the high-speed thoughts which circulated his mind uncontrollably.
They jolted him out of sleep, breaking into his solitary dreams relentlessly.
When the thoughts intensified, he was up all hours of the night. Jolly, who didn't play organized basketball until the ninth grade, was just starting to flourish as a defensive catalyst and balanced scorer.
He's made tweaks to his health. He bounced back completely as a senior, averaging 20.1 points, 9.1 boards, and 3.1 assists en route Putnam City West's berth in the class 6A state semifinal.
Jolly no longer entertains fear. Setbacks and adversity will likely never affect him as they will other people. Any piece of adversity he's faced since has been nothing like such a mind-rattling experience.
"It was a life-changing experience, especially not knowing if I was going to be able to play basketball again," said Jolly, who will spend a post-graduate year at Elev8 Sports Institute in Delray Beach, Fla.
"It made me stronger. It made me more mentally focused. It made me more humble about the game. It made me appreciate being able to play everyday, being able to put in work everyday. It showed me basketball is not forever, it can be taken from you any day. Don't take it for granted at any time."
A combo guard buoyed by an innate knack for scoring on the drive, Jolly will adjust to operating a quick-paced offense rife with Division-I talent.
The uptick in in-house competition at Elev8, where NBA players are regular guests alongside trainers Ganon Baker and Cody Toppert, has kept Jolly hungry for more.
"Competing everyday in practice will help him contribute more right away (at Cal)," said Elev8 head coach Chad Myers.
"He'll know what it takes to be successful against other elite players. He'll know how to practice every day. As far as him contributing at Cal, it could be dependent on some of the guys who are there. I think he's very aware that guys like Jaylen Brown could be there for a year. So he might have to step in and shoulder the load right away."
Cal-signee and NBA prospect Jaylen Brown
Adapting to a game management role has flipped Jolly's focus to a merry-go-round of ball-handling drills.
With more emphasis on making the right reads, picking apart a defense, coming off screens and guarding the one-spot more effectively, the transition won't come without steady labor.
"I don't like to be classified as a particular position, because I'm just a competitor," said Jolly, who narrowed his choices down to Cal, Arizona State, Gonzaga, and Creighton before choosing the Golden Bears.
"I'm a winner. I always pride myself on stepping up to competition. If you beat me, I'm going to work on it and make sure I beat you the next time."
Bert Knows Best
When Putnam City West coach Lenny Bert first discovered Jolly as a twig-thin freshman, he noticed a freakish athlete in need of thorough coaching. Football was Jolly's first labor of love. His only real basketball experience was pickup games in middle school. With his vertical and an intriguing amount of natural ability, Bert saw a wealth of potential in the kid.
Nothing came easy.
There were plenty of run-ins, heated exchanges, and expletive-laden jawing sessions along the way. Freshmen with the privilege of playing varsity minutes are supposed to keep their mouths shut and their eyes open.
Jolly learned this the hard way, packing on considerable mileage from all the laps Bert made him run in four years.
"He was my first real basketball coach," said Jolly. "He turned into an uncle to me. He was there for me at all times. When I got sick, he was there in the hospital with me everyday, praying over me."
Bert's initiative was to morph Jolly into a leader, with nary the slightest void in his work ethic. By tweaking his shot and his shot selection, working on aspects such as passing and timing, and instilling life values in him, Bert molded Jolly into a proven product.
Jolly now understands the immense value of having Bert as a mentor. More importantly, he's had someone who constantly forced him not to settle, imploring him to shatter his expectations.
"He pushed me everyday," said Jolly. "If I'm not working, if I'm not going hard enough he's letting me know. He'll make me run extra. Do this extra. He taught me everything I know about basketball."
Returning from an illness of such, magnitude kept Jolly off the Division-I map. While relegated to the role of spectator--and at times, de facto assistant coach under Bert--Jolly missed a critical evaluation period.
As a senior, his stock soared in sudden, quick-hit fashion.
It began with interest from Tulsa, UTEP, and Oklahoma. Then, Larry Brown and SMU expressed interest.
The true turning point occurred during a tournament in Las Vegas, when Putnam City West met Long Beach Poly Tech at the Tarkanian classic.
The Patriots withered under Long Beach Poly's wall-to-wall pressure. Jolly mustered a meager four points in the first half, with defenders draped all over him.
"I was getting every shot I wanted, I was just rushing them," Jolly said.
"Or not taking my time, spotting up and hitting them. Coach Bert told me just relax, to calm down and take my time. I was moving slower, because I had been away from working out."
Finishing through traffic and creating space off the dribble, Jolly erupted for 24 second half points en route to a win.
Against a Bishop Gorman team front-loaded with 7-footers, including prized class of 2015 recruits Chase Jeter and Stephen Zimmerman, Jolly kicked in the game-winning assist.
After Gorman blew a crucial layup, Jolly found a cutting Nick Robinson for a layup. It was bedlam in Vegas, with Putnam City West pulling off an improbable upset during one of the nation's premiere tournaments.
Jolly's profile skyrocketed, with interest from Cal and Gonzaga heightening.
"I just started getting my vibe back," said Jolly. "My confidence soared and it led into the next couple of games."
Elev8ing the Brand
Elev8 is where lofty expectations are in and excuses are out.
Each player, no matter the team and skill-set, is held to a high standard.
Partly at Baker's hoops guru status on an international scale, partly at the NBA and over-the-pond pro clientele Elev8 is evolving.
Recognized for his versatility, Jolly will headline a diversified incoming class on Elev8 Black.
"The signature aspect of this year's team is going to be versatility, interchangeability, players being able to play multiple positions," explained Toppert.
"It allows us to open up the floor even more than we did last year. Obviously we've got a big guy in the middle in (6-foot-10, 300-pound center) Levi Cook. We've got (7-footer) Sam Alabakis from Australia coming back. Those are two guys who can hold it down in the paint. With the other positions we've really got stretch fours, guys who can play on the perimeter and make decisions with the ball in their hands. As we saw the Golden State Warriors do, going small-ball can serve its purposes. Especially at this level."
With a more highly-decorated class, nothing is guaranteed as far as meaningful minutes go. Jolly is cognizant the respect must be earned. Similar to last year's featured scorer, Alabama-bound guard Kobie Eubanks, Jolly will be empowered as a prolific scoring threat.
"I think the two biggest things with him is he's unselfish and he's a competitor," said Myers of Jolly. "Being unselfish, being able to play with other elite players is huge for us. He doesn't always need the ball in his hands. Not only just his tenaciousness and toughness, but his competitive nature to want to win every drill is what we love."