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Wichita State's Hall seeing clearly for Shockers

Friday - 3/29/2013, 7:25pm  ET

Wichita State's Carl Hall, left, and La Salle's Jerrell Wright battle under the basket during the first half of a West Regional semifinal in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Thursday, March 28, 2013, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

BETH HARRIS
AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Carl Hall positions himself down on the block, spins to catch a pass and scores off a layin. That sequence ran on a loop in the opening minutes of Wichita State's regional semifinal against La Salle.

He scored 10 of the Shockers' first 14 points, setting a dominant tone that carried them to a 72-58 victory and within a game of reaching the school's first Final Four since 1965.

Hall's emergence in just two seasons at Wichita State couldn't have been more unlikely.

The 6-foot-8 forward who speaks in a soft accent reflecting his hometown of Cochran, Ga., arrived in Kansas via two previous schools and a graveyard shift job in a light bulb factory. A heart condition nearly derailed his basketball career and his reluctance to wear glasses to correct his poor eyesight held him back on the court.

Hall's transformation includes chopping off the dreadlocks he'd worn for five years just before the NCAA tournament began. The decision didn't come without hesitation.

"I sat in the car for an hour, like, 'What am I doing?'" he said Friday. "I finally built up enough courage. He clipped 10 off at one time and I was like I'm not sure I want to do that."

Hall's teammates had called him Samson, and they reminded him of the outcome of that biblical tale.

"They said it was going to take my power away," he said.

Without his long hair, though, Hall hasn't lost any of his dominance. He's averaging 11.7 points while shooting a team-high 56 percent and 5.0 rebounds, and has a team-leading six blocked shots in Wichita State's tournament wins over Pittsburgh, No. 1 seed Gonzaga and La Salle.

He put his dreads in a plastic bag inside a shoe box and mailed it to his mother, Jackie Fields, as proof that he had done the deed.

"She didn't believe I was going to cut it," he said.

Coach Gregg Marshall recruited Hall out of Northwest Florida State in the Panhandle town of Niceville. He first spotted the forward at a national junior college tournament, telling his assistants, "'I want that guy right there. The guy with the hair.'"

Hall told Marshall that he was being pursued by BCS schools Auburn, Alabama and Oklahoma State.

"When I called him first, he said, 'You know what? I want to go' -- he called it mid-major, I said non-BCS -- 'I want to go to a mid-major where I can get a degree. I want to provide for my family, and I want to be a big piece,'" Marshall said, adding that Hall has a young son.

"I thought, 'Wow, I may be on to something here. Not too many kids tell you that."

Hall's dreadlocks violated Marshall's rule about his players being neatly groomed, but the coach made a fateful exception.

"I wouldn't have went to Wichita," Hall said.

Marshall describes Hall as "the heartbeat of our team."

"He's always chattering about something," the coach said. "You know what kind of day Carl is having by the amount of noise that he's making."

Hall's heart started giving him trouble in high school. He was playing basketball the first time he passed out; doctors told him it was dehydration.

That summer, he passed out again playing pickup ball in a hot gym. He fainted again in the fall while playing at Middle Georgia College in Cochran, and that's when his mother found out.

"I didn't tell her the first two times because I knew she'd make me stop playing basketball," he said.

Hall was diagnosed with neurocardiogenic syncope, a condition that can make the heart race. He spits out the medical term with ease, but back then Hall was devastated.

His doctor told him he had to quit playing basketball. He got a job painting light bulbs at the factory in Cochran for $12 an hour on the overnight shift. After work, he'd crash for a while, wake up in the afternoon and go to class before returning to his job.

In 2009, the medication Hall was taking improved his condition. He was told he could resume basketball. But he was hesitant, unsure whether he'd pass out again.

"It was scary," he recalled.

Hall had seen a 1992 TV movie about Loyola Marymount star Hank Gathers, who collapsed during a game and later died. It reminded him of his own problem.

"It kind of shook me up," he said.

Eventually, Hall returned to the court at Northwest Florida State without problems. He signed with Wichita State, and it's been 2
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