Rich Nye/Eyewitness Sports.
Indianapolis - Purdue and Indiana tip off the Big Ten women's basketball tourney Thursday at 2:00 pm at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Boilermakers swept two games from the Hoosiers in the regular season.
Purdue starting forward Drey Mingo is playing her best basketball as the Boilermakers come to Indianapolis. Mingo set career highs in points and rebounds in the last two games of the regular season, continuing a remarkable comeback.
"I'm just happy to be alive," says Mingo. "And playing basketball? That's just unbelievable considering that I almost did die."
Just before Thanksgiving, Mingo suffered extreme flu-like symptoms.
"Killer headache," recalls Mingo. "Never been in that much pain before in my life. Could literally hear the blood pulsing in my ears. That's the last memory I have of normal hearing. I remember throwing up several times and sliding to the floor in unconsciousness and waking up in the hospital."
Mingo had contracted bacterial meningitis, contagious and potentially debilitating, or even deadly. No one else got sick. But the team canceled a trip to Cancun, Mexico, while Mingo fought for her life.
Purdue head coach Sharon Versyp kept a bedside vigil. "I was in there stroking her arm and giving her the motivational coaching speech of my life that she has got to beat this. You got to fight, fight, fight. She was moving her arm like she could hear me."
Mingo spent 5 days in the hospital. Prayers and get well wishes helped a difficult recovery. "Just lifting my arms and walking was a struggle," says Mingo. "Taking a shower was pretty brutal. I had to pretty much sleep all day. I was very weak."
But Mingo walked out on the court at Mackey Arena with her teammates at Purdue's next game, just nine days after her collapse. She sat out only four games. Her stamina and playing time gradually increased. The junior from Atlanta earned 3rd team All-Big Ten honors this season.
The medicine doctors gave Mingo probably saved her life. But a side effect is hearing loss. Mingo now wears hearing aids, except when she's on the basketball court. That has created a new communication challenge during games.
"Basically I just hear noise when I play," explains Mingo. "I have to rely completely on signals. I have to sit next to Coach Versyp to hear in timeouts. I have to be looking at my teammates. In transition I have to rely on them to signal to me."
Coach Versyp calls Mingo is an inspiration. "Not once did she ever want to be treated differently. I probably learned so much from her. She never felt sorry for herself."
Mingo's recovery has given the 21-year-old new perspective. "I appreciate every second of my life, because I've actually been in a position to lose it. I've learned to appreciate people a lot more and to tell people that I love them, because you never really know when you're going to see them again."
Drey plans to attend medical school to pursue a career in pediatric cardiology, after she makes the most of this second shot at basketball, and life.