YAKIMA – Ronny Turiaf, the former Gonzaga Bulldogs star who had open-heart surgery nearly five months ago, signed a contract Wednesday to play for the Yakama Sun Kings as part of his rehabilitation.
Turiaf brings new status to the Continental Basketball Association team, whose fans tracked his stellar career at Gonzaga, roughly three hours east in Spokane.
“From a selfish standpoint, for me, he’s a great basketball player. But for the franchise, and for everything Ronny has done in this state, it’s the biggest one we’ve ever had,” coach Paul Woolpert said of the signing. “And he hasn’t even stepped on the floor yet.”
Turiaf, a 6-foot-9 forward, was chosen by the Los Angeles Lakers with the 35th pick in June’s NBA draft. During a subsequent physical, doctors detected a heart problem, and Turiaf underwent surgery July 26 to repair an enlarged aortic root.
The Lakers voided the contract but retained the rights to Turiaf for three years. He has no timetable for joining the NBA team.
“I’m not physically healthy enough to endure practice and training for an NBA schedule,” Turiaf said at a Wednesday news conference. “I’m using Yakama as training. As long as I’m here, I will work hard and I will try to make this team better.”
Turiaf, who worked out with the Sun Kings for the first time Wednesday, said he got “a little winded” but otherwise felt good. He said he will be working to get back to NBA form, but for now, “I’m a Sun King.”
Details of the contract were not disclosed.
Turiaf’s first court action likely will come Monday, when Yakama plays the Idaho Stampede in Boise. His first home game with the team will be the following night.
Asked how he was felt about finally getting back to the game, Turiaf said, “Nervous, no. Excited, yes.
“I’ve been waiting for this so long. Just give me a jersey and a pair of shoes and I’m ready to go.”
Turiaf brings size to a team that owns the best record in the CBA at 11-3.
Ticket sales picked up to five times the usual pace following word Wednesday that Turiaf would sign a contract, general manager Rich Austin said.
The spelling of the Sun Kings team name was changed to ‘Yakama’ to reflect the team’s ownership: the Yakama Nation.
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