Working in a cluster of students Wednesday night, Eddie Ludwig’s attention drifted away from the assigned project in a management class to images of LSU pulling away from Texas A&M streaming over the wireless connection from Reed Arena.
Instead of sitting on the LSU bench, the senior forward and New Orleans native didn’t board a team charter for the second consecutive road game.
“I text them on the road when I can’t be with them,” Ludwig said Thursday. “I was watching last night on the ‘Watch ESPN’ feature on a tablet, which is weird but is what it is.”
The culprit that forced him to step back was a blow to the chin in practice as LSU prepped for Florida in early January, doling out his second concussion in a 10-day window. Over the past month, the undefined recovery period and symptoms made it necessity for Ludwig to step away from practice and travel.
And Saturday, when LSU (18-10, 9-8 Southeastern Conference) faces Ole Miss (22-8, 11-6) at 12:45 p.m., post-concussion syndrome will prevent him from pulling on a jersey for one final time in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Exile is not Ludwig’s choice but rather part of a growing trend as concussions and the injury’s ramifications are no longer confined to the well-traversed terrain of football. The sport is more bullish than ever, and increasingly medical experts are finding that Ludwig’s tribulations are more common.
In 2007, a study by the National Athletic Trainers Association revealed concussions among high school and college basketball players increased by 6.2 percent annually from 1998 to 2004. Among males, the genesis was generally easy to deduce: rebounding. In 30.5 percent of cases, a battle for a board produced a concussive blow, according to the study published in December 2007.
“That’s been one of the more interesting things for me — the progression of what people look at when we talk about concussions,” Ludwig said. “In a matter of three years, it’s changed. These things do relate. They correlate, and we have to look at the whole body of work — not just one instance.”
If anything, Ludwig is an archetype.
After suffering three prior concussions — one as a high school freshman and two in his early years in Baton Rouge — he took a blow to the head between games against Bethune-Cookman and Houston Baptist but was cleared to return by medical staff.
During a scouting session for Florida, Ludwig suffered a blow to the chin — similar to a knockout blow taken by a boxer — during a five-on-five scrimmage component from an unknown teammate.
“I knew right away this was different,” Ludwig said. “It was an immediate headache, and I knew the next thing that was going to come.”
Sidelined during his final season, Ludwig, who has been a regular bench player averaging 2.8 points and 2.6 rebounds, fell into a normal routine of visiting a neurologist weekly for evaluations. Yet the symptoms of quick on-set headaches and dizziness didn’t strip him of his ties to the program as the last link in an ill-fated 2008 recruiting class under Trent Johnson.
“I was able to get out there and work with the posts,” Ludwig said. “If I saw little footwork things or pump fakes they needed to do, I could pull them aside and tell them. I just wanted to be in a position to help.”
A stress test in early February, though, changed the calculus.
Approved by a neurologist, Ludwig climbed aboard an elliptical machine to test his capacity to handle duress with a heart-rate topping 130 beats per minute. It was a short test.
“The symptoms came back right away,” Ludwig said. “That’s when we knew it was going to be a longer time frame for me.”
It also has forced Ludwig to all but back completely away from the program.
“You really feel sad in a sense because you know that’s something that they have a passion for,” coach Johnny Jones said, adding that the coaching staff checks in with Ludwig daily. “You want to see them live out their dream, or at least have an opportunity to compete and do the things that they really enjoy doing. When that’s taken away from you, it’s tough.”
Jones is familiar with the experience of losing a player to concussion-related illness. At North Texas, forward Jacob Holmen has been sidelined permanently after suffering a concussion against South Alabama on Jan. 12; he had suffered two earlier injuries while Jones was still helming the Mean Green.
“It’s guarded so much more heavily now than ever before through the sport of football and all the things that have happened, all the concern and all the information that they have out there,” Jones said. “I think it has people a lot more cautious than they were before.”
Majoring in economics, Ludwig’s 12-hour course load already presents a challenge. The data-heavy reading and analysis of graphs charting conditions can trigger headaches. On certain days, he’s forced to leave class and seek refuge in his off-campus apartment until they abate.
On Thursday, he took a test that had been put off a week in order for him to string together days without symptoms. The consensus, reached with his parents and doctors, was Ludwig needed to focus his energy toward his studies.
Ludwig punches out text messages to teammates before and after games, but his connective tissue to strengthen the bond is frayed. It’s acutely felt by fifth-year senior guard Charles Carmouche, who grew up playing alongside Ludwig in AAU ball around New Orleans.
“You just miss his presence, but concussions are serious,” Carmouche said. “It’s not something you can play with at this point. For him long term, it’s definitely best to sit out.”
So Ludwig’s routine remains rote. Before bed, he pops medication with names he doesn’t know. Each week, he documents his symptoms and when they occur. He sits with a doctor and maps out a strategy for coping.
His mother, Lisa, calls to check on him and chats with doctors she knows and the parents of other kids who’ve dealt with the same issues.
On Saturday, the Country Day alum and his parents will stride to midcourt. Public address announcer Dan Borné will call his name. The crowd will applaud. Yet Ludwig will not don a uniform beneath his warm-ups. Finally, he will sit on the bench and cheer.
“It was apparent to everyone that this was going to be a longer thing than we’d planned it to be,” he said.
“It was not just getting back to playing back to basketball, but back to life.”