Call it mother’s intuition, but Genay Doyal could sense something was wrong with her son, Shawn Kemp Jr.
Last summer, the junior forward on the Washington men’s basketball team began feeling lethargic, out of sorts, and he couldn’t keep food in his stomach.
“What really worried me and Pat (UW trainer Pat Jenkins) the most, he went from 255 pounds to 232 pounds and that was within two weeks,” Doyal said. “We were like, what is going on?”
Kemp protested at first, but after Doyal’s urging he agreed to undergo medical tests.
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“They (UW coaches) thought I was out of shape, but it wasn’t that,” he said. “I was throwing up literally every day. And it was getting to a point to where they knew something was wrong.” Kemp, a 6-foot-9 forward built like his famous father with the same name, said he felt “like my body has been shutting down.” Initially Kemp felt relieved when the doctors told him he had Graves’ disease, an autoimmune condition in which the body produces antibodies that attack the thyroid gland.
“I knew it was something that I would have to overcome,” he said. “It wasn’t going to be easy. Many people told me it’s not the end of the world. A lot of people — a lot of successful people — have Graves’ disease and they’re going through the same thing that you’re going through.
“So I knew that I’d be able to get through it. But at first, it was tough.” He felt embarrassed and didn’t want to tell anyone, including teammates, what was going on.
“They’re my family, so I sat them down,” Kemp said. “I talked to them and they were understanding. They took it in. They understood that something was going on.” Kemp also dealt with a bout of depression.
“He was asking, ‘Why me?’ ” Doyal said. “He’s been through a lot.”
Before arriving at Washington in 2011, Kemp spent a year out of basketball to improve grades. He spent his first year with the Huskies getting back into basketball condition, while averaging just 1.6 points, 0.8 rebounds and 6.5 minutes in 28 games.
He missed the first seven games last season with a knee injury before finally showing a glimpse of his potential in the second half of the season.
Kemp started the final 14 games and averaged 8.4 points and 3.4 rebounds. He seemed poised for a breakout year before suffering yet another setback last summer.
“We didn’t know how serious it was,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “We just didn’t know what it was … We became more concerned and we started to ask more questions.”
In 2007, Justin Holiday missed half of his freshman season due to mononucleosis and in 2010 redshirt sophomore Tyreese Breshers retired from basketball after it was he was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy heart disease.
“Once we knew what was going on with (Kemp) we could go forward, but it was an adjustment for everybody,” Romar said. “I had to adjust to how I coached him.
“We probably didn’t hold him accountable as much as we would have if nothing was wrong. But there were times where he just couldn’t go.”
According to the Graves’ disease and Thyroid Foundation, Kemp is the only current Division I men’s basketball player with the condition. Former Seahawks receiver Bobby Engram and Olympian sprinter Gail Devers were also diagnosed with Graves.
“We’re kind of in uncharted waters,” Doyal said. “I’m just so proud of him the way he’s handled this.”
Doyal wanted Kemp to sit out this season and apply for a medical redshirt, but he refused.
“He said I don’t want to be away from basketball again,” Doyal said.
A week before the season opener, Kemp underwent radiation treatment, which required him to be quarantined for 48 hours. He scored 10 points in 30 minutes in the regular-season opener.
Kemp required weekly medical exams to determine the proper anti-thyroid medication. The drugs made him feel sick and he worked to regain his weight, which explains why he averaged just 3.7 points and 1.7 rebounds in the first 18 games.
Two weeks ago doctors switched his medications and dosage. His weight is back to 255 pounds and Kemp said he feels “close to 100 percent.” Last Saturday, he scored a season-high 13 points in 19 minutes during a 79-67 loss at Stanford.
Washington (11-8, 3-3 Pac-12), which plays Oregon (13-4, 1-4) 8 p.m. Thursday at Alaska Airlines Arena, needs Kemp to improve on his last outing to bolster its small, four-guard lineup.
“As I move forward I definitely expect to play the way I played Saturday night and hopefully do better,” Kemp said. “I don’t plan to go back down. I think I’m progressing.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org