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updated: 3/15/2013 4:31 PM

Purdue's Mingo knows how to pay it forward

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  • Purdue forward Drey Mingo, right, earned Most Outstanding Player honors at last week's Big Ten women's basketball tournament. Mingo, who wears hearing aids, also directs a foundation that assists children with hearing loss.

      Purdue forward Drey Mingo, right, earned Most Outstanding Player honors at last week's Big Ten women's basketball tournament. Mingo, who wears hearing aids, also directs a foundation that assists children with hearing loss.
    Associated Press

 
 

Coming back from a near-fatal illness, as well as ACL knee surgery, to become one of the best basketball players in the Big Ten is a good story.

Purdue forward Drey Mingo was even using the term "storybook ending" on Sunday in the wake of being named the "most outstanding player" of last weekend's Big Ten women's basketball conference tournament.

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She certainly earned the recognition that day, and over the many darker days that preceded it, some may say.

Mingo stole the show in the championship game against Michigan State at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates. She scored a game-high 24 points and hit 10 of her 11 field goal attempts in the Boilermakers' 62-47 victory.

But even if Mingo had instead missed 10 of her 11 field goals, she might have received a majority of the most outstanding player votes anyway, based on sentiment and good karma.

Mingo inspired others with her determination and perseverance to play at an elite level, and she has turned her struggles into a platform to help others.

And that is really what makes Mingo outstanding.

"What a story, what a class act. I'm very proud of what Drey has been able to accomplish with all of her adversity," Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said after watching Mingo shred through her defense with ease. "She represents the Big Ten and all of us very, very well."

Mingo's amazing story has been well documented.

In 2010, Mingo was hit with a severe bout of bacterial meningitis. She was found passed out in her apartment in West Lafayette, was then rushed to the hospital and was in serious condition for what seemed like an eternity. In those early hours, her coaches and teammates weren't sure if she was even going to make it.

Mingo pulled through, but woke up without any hearing. Eventually, she regained almost 90 percent of her hearing in her right ear, but she is legally deaf in her left ear.

Finally healthy and ready to begin a new season in the fall of 2011, Mingo blew out her knee in a preseason exhibition game. Surgery shelved her for the entire season.

Last spring, Purdue petitioned the NCAA for a sixth year for Mingo, based on her medical hardships.

"I thought it was symbolic that I found out on Good Friday that I got the sixth year," said Mingo, who is averaging 12.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game this season as a sixth-year graduate student.

But Mingo, who is preparing to go to medical school to become a pediatric cardiologist, didn't want to be just a symbol of triumph over tragedy. She wanted to be known as a doer.

As she recovered from her bout with meningitis, she came up with the idea of starting a foundation for kids who are hard of hearing.

"It's called Sounds of Serenity and it is near and dear to my heart because of everything I've gone through," said Mingo, who wears hearing aids on and off the court. "It was just taking a really bad situation and turning it around for the better.

"It's been pretty much just me and my mom getting it started, and when I first had the idea she was telling me about how it was going to take a lot of time and how I've still got basketball and school.

"I said, 'I know, but it's something I really want to do.' I gradually got my hearing back and I was able to get hearing aids, but some people aren't blessed with that opportunity and I wanted to help them."

Mingo says hearing aids can cost $1,500 per pair and that many insurance companies don't cover them. Sounds of Serenity (www.teamsounds.net) seeks grants and private donations to cover hearing tests and hearing aids for kids.

"We're just trying to get out in the community and change lives one little kid at a time," said Mingo, whose life was changed but certainly not ruined by adversity.

Mingo says her struggles have made her a stronger person, a better person in some respects. Kudos that karma was able to reward her in a small way with such a special day on Sunday.

"This is an amazing feeling," Mingo said after the championship game. "To even be able to play in the championship in my last year is a dream come true.

"And then to win it and to play so awesome with my teammates I'm speechless."

pbabcock@dailyherald.com

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