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Collecting college basketball jerseys is more than a hobby for man with epilepsy

Everyone from Shaka Smart to Thad Matta has answered the call that is Bryan Black’s jersey collection.

Some fans say they live for basketball. Bryan Black feels he may be alive because of it.

Black suffers from medial temporal lobe epilepsy. Though he was diagnosed in 2012, he’s been living with the daily seizures that go with it for the past eight years. They come several times a day and range in severity, but through it all, he has found a consistent comfort.

The hospital stays, the time away from his family, and the personal struggles all get a little bit easier during college basketball season.

Black doesn’t see college basketball as mere stress relief. He sees it as a lifesaver. For the last two years, he says he has had far fewer seizures during college basketball season than during other times of the year.

“The only thing I can explain is that I know my stress level goes down in that time and I have this feeling of stability and comfort that I don’t have during any other time,” Black said.

And during the actual games, Black fares even better.

“When I’m watching college basketball, I hardly have any,” Black said.

A reliable two-hour respite may not sound like much, but for Black it makes all the difference in the world. He says he has a simple partial seizure about five times a day. That’s where he loses the ability to read or process language, but he retains cognitive functions. Complex partial seizures, where he starts to lose consciousness and sometimes falls over, happen once or twice weekly. Grand mal seizures are for more rare — closer to monthly, and even less during basketball season — but they are the most serious. He says that’s when he loses consciousness and sometimes displays the stereotypical flailing that some may associate with seizures. Those are the times he relies on someone to be around to save his life.

So yes, any break can help.

Initially, Black didn’t quite understand the college basketball craze. That all changed when he was a student at Oregon, thanks to a friend who happened to love Stanford hoops. He opened Black’s eyes to the world of college basketball by getting him to use the TV package his frat offered. Soon enough, Black was watching tournaments big and small, from the Big South to the Pac-12. Other fraternity brothers would quiz Black on basketball teams and he’d have to identify their conferences. He was a fanatic.

Eight years later, Black has turned the pastime of watching college basketball into a hobby that can distract him from the troubles of dealing with epilepsy.

And so Black decided to make it more than just a hobby. He’s been able to combine his love for the game with his effort to raise awareness for his condition simply by collecting jerseys. By seeking a jersey from all 351 Division I schools, it means sharing his story with 351 different communities.

“I said to myself, I can turn this epilepsy into something positive just by communicating with people on Twitter, adding every single one of the school’s basketball Twitters and communicating with as many sportswriters and as many people who are involved with these schools as possible,” Black said.

To spark his collection, Black emailed almost every conference individually about his situation and described how he hoped to build a jersey collection.

Some schools, like Houston Baptist, responded with enthusiasm. Director of basketball operations Luke Hillin said that he, along with assistant coach Steven Key and athletic director Steve Moniaci, agreed that not only should they send Black a jersey, but they should lead the charge in asking all Southland schools to do the same. Hillin said that Black is welcome at HBU for a game and an ongoing partnership with the program.

Players took note of Black’s accomplishments as well.

“I’m glad I have a great fan like that,” former UNO forward and Southland player of the year Erik Thomas said. “I know epilepsy is real hard to deal with at times, I just hope he fights through that.”

From the first jersey in his collection (Eastern Washington) to his 81st (UC Santa Barbara), Black is well on his way to reaching all 351 jerseys in just three months. He has even received several more after posting the below tweet:

Black has a running document to track the jerseys he still needs. It’s broken down by conference, with some teams bolded to indicate the ones he wants the most. At the bottom, he also lists jerseys he has, but wants to replace. His San Francisco jersey, for example, is “too tight to wear,” and his Providence jersey is a “fan jersey — not quite as beautiful.”

Naturally, Black holds a special place in his heart for the mid-majors.

“These smaller schools mean more to me because there’s only one team that gets to go [to the NCAA Tournament] from each conference,” Black said.

He listed Northern Iowa, Monmouth, UNC Wilmington, Stephen F. Austin, Iona, and Florida Gulf Coast as some of his favorites mid-majors to watch, but one team in particular stands out.

“If I had to pick one mid-major team, I think it would be Valparaiso,” Black said. “I remember them beating Ole Miss in the 90’s.”

Luckily, Black has already received a Valpo jersey along with a foam finger and note from the coaching staff.

“It’s really life changing knowing that so many people are paying attention to this,” Black said. “I never could’ve imagined this would take off the way it did.”

If you have a connection to a Division I school and feel you can get Bryan Black a jersey, please contact him on Twitter at @350jerseys4hope.

UPDATE: We’ve already seen a ton of people trying to get their schools to help out. Here is a list of jerseys Bryan is still looking for: