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Doctors Optimistic About Prep Star’s Recovery From Neck Surgery

February 28, 1996

CHICAGO (AP) _ High school basketball star Ronnie Fields, injured Monday in a car accident, is expected to make a full recovery from a fractured neck.

In a three-hour operation Tuesday, doctors took bone fragments from Fields’ pelvis and fused them with three vertebrae in his neck. A halo-shaped brace was embedded in his skull and attached to a constricting vest.

Fields, 19, will be able to walk again Thursday, said Dr. Paul Meyer of Northwestern Memorial Hospital. After two months in the halo brace and a third month with a lighter model, Fields will be able to begin rehabilitation and eventually return to basketball, Meyer said.

``I believe he will return to form,″ Meyer said. ``I don’t believe what happened to him and what we had to do to him will inhibit his overall physical ability.″

The good prognosis caught the attention of Michael Jordan, whose No. 23 is also worn by Fields.

``He’s fortunate for the second opportunity he’s been given,″ Jordan said. ``From what I’ve seen, he’s a monster talent and now he’s got a chance to develop it.″

Fields’ future clouded over early Monday near Elmhurst, when he swerved the rental car he was driving to avoid a rock on a wet road and hit a guardrail twice. Fields later told doctors he was not wearing a seatbelt, but that the car’s airbag had deployed.

Meyer said Fields was also struck above the eye and in the back of the head during the crash and was ``very lucky″ not to have been paralyzed.

The 6-foot-3 senior is an acrobatic player with a vertical leap of 40 inches who has averaged 33 points and 12 rebounds for Farragut High (21-3) this season. An Associated Press All-State player three times, Fields was one of 20 players selected for next month’s McDonald’s All-American game.

Fields, along with Kevin Garnett, led Farragut to the Chicago Public League title last year.

This season, Fields was considered one of the top prep guards in the nation and had committed orally to play at DePaul next season. Because Fields had not yet scored high enough on the ACT to enter DePaul, he had considered following after Garnett and declaring himself eligible for the NBA draft.

Garnett was the fifth pick in last year’s draft and has recently become a starter for the Minnesota Timberwolves. But NBA scouts have not shown much interest in Fields because of his height. Fields had hoped to change some of their minds in the McDonald’s game.

``Ronnie’s my friend,″ said Garnett, who visited Fields at Northwestern before the Timberwolves’ 120-99 loss to the Bulls in Chicago on Tuesday night. Garnett played the game with Fields’ name and jersey number written on his shoes. ``Until I see him come to me and hug me on his own two feet, it’s staying on there.″

Meyer, the orthopedist, said Fields would regain about 85 percent of his original range of motion near the injured vertebrae, but that other joints would take up the slack.

When asked what he would tell a college coach doubtful about whether Fields would fully recover, Meyer said: ``Do not be hesitant with this golden star. He’s going to be very fit.″

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