A heart condition has kept Khalil Garland from pursuing his basketball career, but since joining the Arkansas basketball squad in 2018, he has found a position with the team that has allowed him to be a part of Razorback basketball.
Garland has been a student-assistant on the Arkansas Razorbacks men’s basketball team for three years. Before that, he was a four-star prospect from Little Rock, Arkansas.
On gamedays for the past two seasons, Garland would be found sitting behind the Razorbacks’ bench cheering on the players and passing along advice. This is a very different game day than he imagined when he first committed to the University of Arkansas.
In 2016, Khalil Garland was a junior at Parkview High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. That year, his basketball team won the 6A boys state championship against Pine Bluff. That same year, Garland was also on Team Penny coached by NBA legend Penny Hardaway in the Elite Youth Basketball League. The EYBL is a highly-competitive, 17-and-under summer basketball league that has had multiple NBA stars play in it.
He was third on his team in scoring, behind former Kentucky Wildcat standout and current NBA starter with the Charlotte Hornets, P.J. Washington. That team made it to the Peach Jam Final Four before a heart-breaking, come-from-behind two-point loss to the PSA Cardinals. That Cardinals team included players like Mohamed Bamba, who plays in the NBA for the Orlando Magic, and Cole Anthony, a freshman at North Carolina, who is a projected top-five pick in the upcoming NBA draft.
The next year, Garland’s team lost the 5A boys championship game against Mills University Studies High School from Little Rock. He had another good season, averaging 15 points per game.
Garland was a senior that season, and he had to change his focus to college following the loss. He had many options of schools to continue his basketball career. He decided to stay in-state and play for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
“[The recruitment process] was hard, because I had so many schools looking at me, but I felt like I needed to, I wanted to stay home and play for Arkansas,” Garland said.
Garland had a plan coming into the university. His eyes were set on ultimately playing at the next level in the NBA.
Garland was Arkansas’ second-highest rated in-state prospect behind Daniel Gafford for the class of 2017. He was supposed to be a large part of the team’s future.
When Garland came to the university, the team had mandatory physicals which included an electrocardiography. Garland’s EKG did not come back with good news. He had a small hole in his heart.
“They picked it up when we had to do EKGs my freshman year,” Garland said. “I don’t really know the in-depth…[it’s] just like a hole in my heart… so it just makes me tired quicker.”
This left Garland with a choice: play basketball but risk his health or quit playing competitive basketball.
Garland decided to protect his health and stop playing basketball. All of his dreams of playing in the NBA were now gone.
“Basically it came down to do I value my life because they said I could pass out anytime on the court… it’s not even worth it, I want my life,” Garland said.
Garland decided to keep him with the team. He became the team manager and was even able to keep his scholarship after a few strings were pulled.
Khalil still lives a normal life, just without playing competitive basketball. He is still around the game, just in a different role.
“It doesn’t restrict me that much now. I’m still in the players’ ears, they listen to me , I talk to the coaches,” Garland said. “I really can’t do any physical contact, but I’ve played pickup with them [the team] in the past.”
On gamedays, Garland can be found on the court during warmups helping rebound the ball or talking with players. The transition for him seemed to be smooth. Garland has embraced his position and still tries to help the team where he can.
“It wasn’t that hard because I feel like I knew the ins and outs of the game. So I mean I see it from the sideline, I’m looking at it from the sideline, so I feel like I can tell the players what they don’t see because I was a player,” Garland said. “[Being team manager] just means that whenever the players need me I’m here for them and they know that so they ask me for things and ask me for advice and I’m always there for them.
Garland is a junior now and is not sure what future basketball will lead him to. If he gets an opportunity to coach, he said that is what he would like to do.
Garland may not know exactly where he will end up or wants to end up,but he does know he wants to stay close to basketball.
“It’s been a big transition,” Garland said. “First off with the coaching change, but I mean coach Musselman is a great person, and (I am) just trying to go day-by-day realizing that God has something else for me because I wasn’t able to play basketball.”