CEDAR FALLS — Despite adding four scholarship freshmen to its 2019-20 roster, Northern Iowa likely will see Austin Phyfe’s return as the most impactful addition in 2019-20.
Phyfe, who played in only seven games before being shut down for the season with vasovagal syncope, was nearly back to full health at the end of last season and has been training without limitations since the offseason began.
“I’d say from my physicality standpoint I probably got back to a point (last season) where I was about ready to play, but it never crossed my mind to make that decision and go back out there,” Phyfe said on the latest episode of the On UNI Podcast.
Phyfe played just 67 minutes and missed the Panthers’ last 26 games, so, while he felt he could have played at the end of last season, he understood playing it safe was the best path.
“So, for a while it was tough. Really tough on me,” Phyfe said of sitting out. “But in the long run I think I’m going to be very thankful for it.
“I think my work ethic will go up, and playing hard. Not that I didn’t play hard before, but, I really know how hard it is to sit out and have that feeling that maybe (my career) is over.”
Thoughts that his career could be in jeopardy were not hyperbolic. Vasovagal syncope is when a person’s heart rate and blood pressure drop suddenly, often leading to passing out.
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With UNI Coach Ben Jacobson alongside, Phyfe met with multiple doctors and tried various treatments. However, Phyfe said any feelings that his career could be over began to vanish before the Panthers’ home game against Loyola-Chicago on Feb. 27.
“It was about my third practice, (participating) in the whole practice,” Phyfe said. “Because the first couple practices where I came back I still didn’t feel like myself. After about that third practice — I had a pretty good practice — I was just feeling back to my old self. It was a great feeling.”
Ultimately doctors told Phyfe his improvement likely is due to his body outgrowing the condition, or getting adjusted to it.
Now poised for a return to the court, he’s confident his game will be at another level.
“My biggest thing freshman year was the speed of the game was a lot for me,” Phyfe said. “It led me to get into foul trouble a lot in the year as well. Now just being around everything, the game has slowed down for me and I think my body is even gone up a little bit from (freshman year).”