AMHERST - UB senior Mitchell Watt is enjoying tremendous success on the court in his senior season. He's second on the team in scoring (14.9 ppg), and the leader in rebounds (7.7) and blocked shots 55.
He's one of the big reasons the Bulls are 15-6 and winners of seven straight games.
That's only a small part of his story.
What it took for him to reach this point, is something he's waited to share with his teammates and the community until now.
"It was tough knowing that I'm capable of so much more and not being able to do it."
Watt is originally from Arizona and had returned to UB for the start of his sophomore season. He had been experiencing double vision, and thought it was a heat related illness from working out in Arizona prior to his return. Things got worse on his first day back in Amherst when he tried to climb a flight of stairs in his dorm.
"The first day back I just fell over... and I knew right then something wasn't right. My legs didn't feel right."
Mitchell spent two weeks in the hospital while doctors tried to figure out what was wrong. Dr. Michael Battaglia, a neurologist with the Buffalo medical group, was able to assist in diagnosing Watt with Guillain-Barre Syndrome. That's a condition where his immune system attacks the nervous system.
"Mitch had double vision. He had some head and neck pain. He had trouble walking. He had trouble standing...it was those two aspects of his condition that made it difficult for him to return to basketball."
Fortunately, after those two weeks in the hospital, Watt responded well to treatment and began the long road to recover. Battaglia says he moved more quickly down that road than most.
"His weakness was so severe that he struggled to even stand from a chair. What was amazing about Mitch was that within a month, he was dunking a basketball."
Watt says he was determined to fight for his basketball career from the beginning.
"I just tried to stay positive the whole time. I just decided right then that no matter what they told me I had, I knew I could overcome it. I had to re-teach myself how to walk again... then how to jog again... And then how to run again."
Amazingly, Watt made it back for his sophomore season, but battled significant fatigue that is normally associated with the condition. He could only play for short periods of time before needing to come out of games. Things improved last year in his junior season, but he hasn't been able to fully recover until this year.
"It's awesome. This is how I've wanted to play the whole time. It's really great to finish up with a bang. The guys that are here... I love them. We're a big family and I'm really glad that I can
be here and produce for them in their final moments."
The finest moment may still ahead of him as the Bulls figure to contend for a conference championship and trip to the NCAA Tournament.
UB coach Reggie Witherspoon says he's glad Watt has decided to share his story now.
"I'm glad that he's finally sharing his story because there's a lot of people that can be helped by it."
Dr. Battaglia says Watt's nerves have recovered fully, and there's a less than five-percent chance he could have a relapse at some point in his life.