CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Texas A&M University Corpus Christi men’s basketball is on the hunt for back-to-back conference tournament titles.
They’re one of three teams in the country to return all five starters. One of those athletes had a much different route to get where he is.
Simeon Fryer fell in love with basketball when he was eight years old.
He said he always had a dream of playing Division 1 basketball but things became complicated following his first season at Community College of Beaver County.
"I just felt more weak and like the sensation of like your legs falling asleep kind of,” the redshirt senior said.
In the summer of 2018, Fryer said he got done playing basketball with a teammate. The next morning his legs felt more tired and sore than usual.
Days after that he felt weaker and eventually had shortness of breath.
A little nervous, he headed to the doctor.
“They did like the reflexes test. They hit my knee, I didn’t move," Fryer said. "It's like reflexes in your finger, if you lift your ring finger up, your middle finger and your pinky are supposed to lift up with it. That didn't happen."
Fryer was diagnosed with the rare disease, Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). It’s when the immune system attacks the nerves.
Fryer was taken back because he never heard of the disease.
“I was just going to be in and out, but it was kind of like the total opposite," he said. "It kind of got worse before it got better. So, it was definitely a scary feeling.”
He was in the hospital for two months, lost 50 pounds and lost a lot of motor function.
Days after his diagnosis, he went through a case of Bell's Palsy, where you lose control of the muscles in your face.
Many recover from GBS, but some cases are worse than others and sometimes fatal.
For Fryer, what lied ahead was a year and a half of recovery.
“It was extremely hard, not just physically, but mentally," he said. "Knowing at a time I could dunk, then basically have to learn how to dunk again, learn how to run again. It was just more frustrating than anything else because I’ve been doing it my whole life.”
With any great success story comes a great support system, or in his case, the birth of his son, helped get Fryer back to his feet
"Basketball was what I planned on doing, provide for my family," he said. "That gave me tons of motivation right there to keep pushing.
He worked his way back to his junior college team, eventually earning some attention and a spot on the Islander basketball squad.
“I didn’t really know and more and more as I got to know him and I figured out the levity of the situation, you can’t have anything but respect and admiration for him,” Islander Coach Steve Lutz said.
“I just didn’t feel comfortable talking about it at first because we were all new," Fryer said. "We all had to figure each other out before anything. But now I'm super close with everybody. I feel like we’re a big giant family now."
Like Fryer, Lutz was new to the team for the 2021-2022 season.
Lutz said at first, Fryer was "standoffish," but grew into someone the team can lean on and look to for leadership.
Fryer was named a team captain for the 2022-2023 season.
“He's not one who's going to correct you through a confrontational episode," said Lutz. "He’s someone that’s going to pull you aside and put his arm around you and tell you, you can do better or how to do better. And pull the younger guys along. So, he's helped elevate our program as much as anyone or anything."
Lutz said Fryer is a good basketball player and someone who you want to be around.
"He's a guy that never has a bad day," said Lutz. "He has an infectious personality and when he walks into the room, he just brings energy, he brings positivity."
Fryer still deals will the lingering effects of the disease, but he said it’s not getting in the way of anything.
He said the team has a goal of winning another conference title and returning to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year.
Fryer was the lone player to start every game last season. He earned preseason all-conference accolades coming into this season.
What he hopes his story can do for others is show them perseverance.
“No matter what you go through, just keep pushing, just keep pushing,” he said.
The Islanders next home game is on Dec. 28 against Our Lady of the Lake.