Broken heart? With determination, treatment, GCU’s Tyon Grant-Foster finds his way back to basketball

GCU’s Tyon Grant-Foster said he doesn’t take any day for granted after having to miss 16 months of basketball because of a heart condition. (File photo by Griffin Greenberg/Cronkite News)

SPOKANE, Wash. – Tyon Grant-Foster has fueled the success of the Grand Canyon men’s basketball team all season long. He was named Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year and was a large part of the Lopes’ first ever NCAA Tournament win versus the Saint Mary’s Gaels, setting up Sunday’s second-round game against Alabama.

It’s an incredible turn of events considering two years ago, he almost lost basketball forever.

In the 2021-22 season opener as a player for DePaul, Grant-Foster jogged to the locker room at halftime, felt light-headed and collapsed as shocked teammates watched him foam at the mouth. The training staff resuscitated him before he was taken to the hospital, where his heart was shocked three times during a 10-day stay and an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator was inserted.

Although he never received a definitive diagnosis, a doctor told him scarring on his heart meant he could never play basketball competitively again.

Back home in Kansas City, he collapsed again during a pickup game. A second heart-surgery to address scarring followed, as did many trips to the Mayo Clinic. Sixteen months after the initial incident at DePaul, he was cleared to play.

“Just being able to have him here and be able to witness his story, it’s a blessing,” GCU guard Ray Harrison said. “I feel like anybody who is a fan of sports or really any type of comeback story, I feel like you are able to look at him as an individual and just appreciate what he’s been through.”

The play on the court has been remarkable. He leads the team in points per game (19.8), and is third on the team in rebounds (6.0). Even with all of that, the mental toughness he attacked this season with is what coach Brynce Drew and the team noticed the most.

“I would say if there was one word, it would be resilient for Tyon,” forward Gabe McGlothan said. “He’s taken hits, he’s, of course, gone down, but there’s one thing he’ll never do and that’s never quit.”

Grant-Foster began his collegiate career at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa, where he played two years before transferring back home to the University of Kansas. He played one year with the Jayhawks before going to DePaul and becoming a part of the Blue Demons. But his stay at DePaul was as short lived as it could have been.

He found his way to GCU in April of 2023 after he was medically cleared the month before. He knew he made the right choice at the time, and this season has proved it.

There were two big reasons why Grant-Foster chose GCU: two returners from last season’s team who were with him on his visit.

Harrison and McGlothan were the lone rotation players to return from last season’s Lopes team. Harrison won the WAC Tournament Most Outstanding Performer in 2022 and McGlothan has been the vocal, physical and spiritual leader of the team for the last three seasons.

“What brought me to GCU was the winning culture they were building here and just how much I know Gabe and Ray wanted to win,” Grant-Foster said.

Harrison had a very simple recruiting pitch to Grant-Foster.

“I feel like the only pitch we gave him was I asked him if he wanted a ring.”

McGlothan had a more complex but equally compelling and convincing pitch.

“My side of the recruiting process … just getting to know Tyon and knowing that regardless of what’s on the court, I know I have a brother for life,” McGlothan said with a smile after the win over Saint Mary’s. “We were going to start building that. That was one of my favorite things. And trusting in that, look where it got us.”

Grant-Foster had not played a game in nearly two full years before donning the Lopes jersey to start this season, but it hasn’t felt that way at all.

“It just felt real natural,” he said. “It felt like I ain’t been away from the game for two years, that’s what it felt like.”

Drew had a similar thought process.

“I’ve been really pleased with his consistency throughout the year. Not playing in two years, we thought there might be some big inconsistency in his play,” Drew said. “He started out game one and started scoring the ball, which kind of to our amazement we thought it would take some time to see him be at his best, but he was pretty much from day one spectacular for us.”

Drew calls Grant-Foster “fearless, and that’s probably one of the biggest things I’ve admired about him, is never once has he had any doubt about playing or thought about his condition. It’s just really remarkable, his mental toughness and his approach that he’s coming to the season with.”

He also said Grant-Foster had “no rust” despite taking the two years off. Not only did he lead the WAC in scoring per game, he was fifth in blocks per game and 10th in steals per game. He also had the fourth-most free throw attempts in the conference, showing his aggression during the games. Drew said Grant-Foster has been fearless on the ground and taking contact from day one.

GCU gave Grant-Foster a second chance when he thought he might not have one, and he’s incredibly grateful. Before the Lopes’ game against Saint Mary’s, sitting beside Harrison and McGlothan, Grant-Foster was appreciative of everything.

“I’m super blessed to be here just because of everything that has happened in my life and I just can’t do nothing but thank God,” he said. “It’s just a blessing to be here. I appreciate these two guys next to me because they accepted me coming to Grand Canyon and that’s why we are here today.”

Rishi Oza(he/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Rishi Oza expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Oza has interned with FOX Sports as a 1st and 10 operator and has hosted a show on Blaze Radio.