Zach Hay scored the two most memorable points of the White House Heritage boys basketball season Friday night – even if it took the senior an extra try.
Hay missed the opening shot against Greenbrier, made the putback attempt, burst into laughter and exited to a standing ovation from the limited crowd in attendance on senior night. The Patriots went on to win 59-42.
“I missed it because I had to use my left hand instead of my (dominant) right hand,” he said. “I tried it with my right in warmups and missed like five in a row.
After what the 6-foot-5 forward has been through over the last 10 months, one missed shot was hardly anything to sweat.
“His outlook is positive,” Heritage coach Carl Miller said. “We’ve had many conversations about that. He’s lucky that he’s here.”
Medical concerns stemming from a scary health incident last spring have kept Hay off the court this season. He suffered a stroke and several seizures at his home last March and was rushed to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, where doctors discovered blood clots in his brain and neck and a hole in his heart.
Following emergency surgery and a stint at the Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital, Hay returned home just under a month later to a surprise police escort and welcome celebration at White House Municipal Park in late April.
Hay underwent heart surgery in the summer, completed physical therapy and has slowly resumed his normal activities.
“I’m running at nighttime now, and I’m running fine,” Hay said. “Everything’s pretty good except my right hand. It’s not working that well right now.”
Doctors told him that any further damage to his brain – such as a concussion – could ruin his progress or even cost him his life, putting a full return to competitive basketball out of the question for now. He has also struggled to focus on schoolwork despite previously being a straight-A student.
Even though he hasn’t been able to play, Hay remains an involved member of the Patriots basketball team. He attended a Heritage practice within days of his heart surgery and still dons his No. 24 jersey each game while supporting his teammates from the bench.
“If somebody makes a three or something, he’s the first one to stand up and start cheering,” Miller said. “He’s engaged from that perspective. These are his brothers, and he loves being a part of this team.”
Hay said he is hopeful for the days ahead. He plans to attend Volunteer State Community College to study criminal justice with dreams of becoming a police officer.
“I’ve wanted to be a cop ever since eighth grade,” Hay said. “I love dogs a lot, so I want to be a K-9 cop after two years. I don’t know for sure if I can do it yet. It depends on how my hand works in the future.”
Miller remembers Hay fighting for rebounds and positioning down low in practice when he was healthy. That same level of determination helped him get back on his feet after the stroke.
If his track record is any indication, Hay will persevere to try to reach his goals.
“He was a tough kid,” Miller said. “To see that fight, even after (the stroke), is not surprising. He’s still the same Zach. He’s still fighting. He’s just fighting a different battle in a different way.”