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An emotional season

Hernando forward Chris Korbus has had to overcome a mysterious infection and deal with the deaths of two friends.

By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 5, 2003


Chris Korbus was resting at home a few months ago, unable to sleep, when his head began to hurt.

"The pain was just enormous," Korbus said.

The Hernando junior went into the bathroom to get Advil. As he looked into a mirror, he couldn't believe the image staring back belonged to him. The right side of his face was completely swollen.

Korbus called a doctor, who wrote out a prescription. But the medicine didn't reduce the swelling. He visited another doctor, who told him to go to a hospital.

Korbus, who had been hospitalized just once before -- to have his tonsils removed -- spent the next five days in a hospital bed wondering why he was there, what was wrong with him and how long he would have to stay.

He didn't know it at the time, but the visit might have saved his life.

"They said it could have been deadly if I would have let it go too long, and that scared me," Korbus said. "If the infection would have spread all over my body, it would have been hard to get rid of."

Days earlier, everything had been fine in Korbus' life. A basketball anomaly with the build of a post player and the touch of a shooting guard, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound small forward was coming off a season in which he led the junior varsity with 20 points per game.

After an offseason of work, Korbus was preparing to enter his first season as a varsity starter. Then came the headache, followed by heartache.

Doctors first thought Korbus might have cat-scratch fever, which develops from a cat scratch or bite and can cause swelling of the lymph nodes, low-grade fever and other symptoms. Though they have since ruled out the infectious disease, they remain mystified by the illness that attacked Korbus' immune system and sapped him of much of his strength.

"They said it's almost a bad-luck infection," Korbus said. "Not very many people get it, but it can come from a lot of things."

Korbus spent five days at Spring Hill Regional Hospital, where he was hooked up to an IV and tested for tuberculosis and mumps. A skin sample was taken from his face, but tests proved inconclusive.

Heavy medication and heat treatments brought the swelling to a head. Once the pus was removed from beneath the swelling, Korbus was released from the hospital.

But before he could return home, he had to visit another doctor, who put an IV in Korbus' arm. For two weeks, he had to return for daily IV treatments. Korbus missed 2-21/2 weeks of school and three weeks of practice. He lost 20 pounds and much of his endurance.

"We got in some situations where we needed to throw him on the court, and he could only get up and down the floor for a minute and a half, two minutes before he got too tired," coach Jeff Laing said.

Korbus returned for Hernando's season-opening 66-47 victory over Springstead. He scored a game-high 14 points in 15 minutes.

"I was really excited to be back," Korbus said.

"I didn't think I was going to play that much because of the practice that I missed, but coach Laing was very lenient," Korbus said. "He understood my situation, and he knew that I could run the offensive set, so he put me in."

Korbus didn't stop there.

Through 10 games, he ranked second on the team in scoring average (9.6 points) and third in rebounding average (4.8). He led the Leopards in 3-pointers (16) and 3-point shooting percentage (40). "That helps us, because he can pull people out," Laing said. "With our lack of post play, we'll go ahead and put four guys on the outside and one on the inside.

"He'll be on the baseline, and he'll pull somebody out if he can hit that shot then that'll open up the middle for us. If he gets going on a good streak, it really opens up the offense."

It has been difficult for Korbus to find a rhythm. Because of personnel problems that left Hernando with a full complement of players for only three practices, he has had to play the No. 3-5 positions at times this season.

Korbus suffered another setback when two of his closest friends, Zak Lukas and Jason Lewis, died last month in a Gulf watercraft accident.

"That affected me in a big way, because it was so sudden," Korbus said. "Everything, even basketball, went on hold. Nothing really mattered to me."

Korbus had known Lewis since they went to daycare together. Lukas was one of Korbus' best friends, and the two often fished.

Tribute to friends

Once, Korbus and Lukas -- armed with a casting net -- tried to catch an alligator that was eating the fish in the pond behind Lukas' home. They managed to get the net on the alligator before it squirmed away.

"We were having fun," Korbus said. "That's all I was worried about."

After the deaths of his friends, Korbus missed three or four days of practice to be with their families and attend their funerals.

In their memory, Korbus and teammate Brent Lowman wrote Lukas' and Lewis' initials on the backs of their game shoes. When he shoots free throws, Korbus dribbles three times and touches the backs of his shoes in tribute.

"Whenever we play, we're thinking of them," Korbus said.

Korbus has not had further problems with his illness and says he is back at full speed. He continues to take oral antibiotics and visits an ear, nose and throat specialist for monthly checkups.

He hopes to help Hernando turn around a season that began with losses in eight of its first 10 games.

"I see the team coming together more," Korbus said.

"At the beginning of the year, it was almost like we were playing as individuals. We'd just get down by 10 points, then think we have to make it all up at one time, so we'd go down there, not run through the offense and just jack up shots. Now, we know that if we run through our offense, then points will come off it," he said.

Points will come more regularly for Korbus next season if the Leopards can find a post player. That would free him to move back to the outside, where he would be among the squad's first scoring options.

"If we get some post player development, then next year he won't have to worry about being down low too much," Laing said. "Unless we have to go small, he'll play mostly the outside."

But Korbus isn't in a rush to get to next season. If nothing else, the experiences of the past few months have taught him to appreciate where he is right now.

"I'm happy to be here," Korbus said. "I'm happy I get to do something that I love, like basketball. I just hope I can stay healthy."

Frank Pastor can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 1430. Send e-mail to pastor@sptimes.com .

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