On this day 17 years ago, Newsday profiled Burt Vimont during his junior basketball season. Here is the article from Jason Molinet.
Burton’s Back in Business Playing Hoops
Paradise can seem like prison if you’d rather be somewhere else.
After recovering from back surgery last January, Burton Vimont Jr. awoke each morning and could see the sandy beach and glimmering Persian Gulf from his home in Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia.
Palm trees dot the landscape of this oil town where Vimont grew up, one of seven children of American parents. His dad has a lucrative job with one of the oil giants. This is the world he is most familiar with.
Weakened by the intricate surgery, all Vimont could do in the two months that followed was walk around his house, peer at the inviting scenery outside, and sometimes pause to catch his breath.
Yet he longed to be back in New York playing basketball at Stony Brook School.
“I was devastated,” said Vimont, a 6-7, 215-pound junior. “Sports was my whole life.”
Now he has defied the odds. He is back on the basketball court playing a critical role for Stony Brook this season, starting at center for a team that expects to challenge for the Suffolk League VII title and Class C crown.
Stony Brook is 5-2, and Vimont is averaging 4 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocks.
“He’d always hang around the gym and I wondered why he wasn’t playing,” said sophomore point guard Steven Harney, who lives in Holbrook. “I didn’t know he had a back injury. He’s made a big difference this year. Mostly, he’s a defensive presence. He has long arms and blocks shots from nowhere.”
Vimont, who began playing organized basketball as a sixth-grader in Saudi Arabia, always wanted to play basketball in America. It ate at him like an ulcer. So when he chose a boarding school in the United States, two criteria were foremost on his mind: The school had to have Christian leanings and a solid basketball program. He picked Stony Brook over schools in Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
Although Vimont had never played football before, he arrived at Stony Brook nearly two weeks before the start of classes in August 2000 so he could try out for the team. It was during long conditioning runs that Vimont began to feel tightness in his hamstrings. The nagging pain forced him to see a doctor.
“The doctor told me it might be caused by my growing,” Vimont said. So he dropped football and gave his legs a rest for eight weeks, as per doctor’s orders. Vimont wanted to be ready for basketball season.
But after two practices with the junior varsity in November, the problem hadn’t gone away. So when Vimont, an American citizen, went back to Saudi Arabia for the holidays, he was checked out by another doctor.
A more severe cause was found, a congenital defect of the L5 vertebra at the base of the spine, where two small holes appeared to be growing larger as Vimont’s frame expanded. Although the condition hardly was critical, Vimont needed corrective surgery if he hoped to play sports again. Even then, he was told, there was a 25-percent chance the operation would not be successful.
Vimont had the six-hour surgery Feb. 6, his birthday. Using cadaver bones and metal rods, doctors were able to close the gaps in Vimont’s spine. He didn’t return to school in the United States until the end of March. Forget basketball. Vimont assumed he would miss his junior season, too. Simple activities were a challenge.
“It was tough just trying to tie my shoes,” Vimont said. “I’d have to push myself down slowly off my bed until I was on my knees.”
Back at Stony Brook this fall, Vimont began shooting around on the outdoor courts. The game he loved was beckoning him and his body was able to answer the call. Playing competitive basketball this season suddenly became a realistic goal.
“I was just watching him play outside and I was surprised he could move so well,” said Mike Hickey, in his 16th season as Stony Brook basketball coach. “I didn’t anticipate him being on the varsity. I saw him blocking shots and getting rebounds, and I said jokingly, ‘I wonder what you could do if you left your feet.’ He said, ‘I’m not allowed to jump until Dec. 1.’ “
Now that Vimont has full medical clearance, he no longer is playing flat-footed. A six-inch scar along the small of his back is the only reminder of all he has gone through during the last year.
Vimont helped the Bears reach the Suffolk County Championship in 2002, then led them to an undefeated League Championship season the following year, highlighted by a triple-double vs. Southold on January 25 in which he recorded 24 points and 11 blocks.