One was on the way out. One was on the way in.

Before crisis intimately intertwined the lives of Fred Hoiberg and Ronny Turiaf, the pair had little in common, save for the game they played.

Turiaf grew up on a scenic island under French jurisdiction, his childhood feet accustomed to the soothing sensation of walking along a Carribean beach. If Hoiberg played in any sand growing up, it was at an Ames, Iowa playground; row upon row of corn and soybeans were the closest thing to an ocean he could view from his boyhood home.

Hoiberg moved five blocks to pursue his college basketball aspirations. Turiaf emigrated 3,927 miles to chase his. A clean-cut, stoic shooting guard, Hoiberg earned the nickname "The Mayor" for his quiet, almost diplomatic dissection of the old Big Eight. Turiaf, well -- does a cornrow-and-beard-sporting, sideline-jigging, gregarious bear of a big man even need a substitute moniker?

Jimmy Chitwood of "Hoosiers," meet Baloo from "The Jungle Book."

By the time their paths intersected, Hoiberg was a decade removed from starring for Iowa State, hopping off the bench and hitting 3-pointers for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Turiaf had just wrapped up a stalwart collegiate stint of his own, at Gonzaga, and was looking forward to his NBA days.

Then, in the summer of 2005, the two were shaken into realizing they shared a lot more than a career path.

Your aorta is the largest artery in your body, originating from the center of your heart and running all the way down to your waistline, where it branches out into a separate artery in each of your legs. Every drop of blood flowing through your veins is distributed via the aorta.

Under normal conditions, the aorta is about a foot long and just more than an inch in diameter. A routine life insurance examination revealed Hoiberg was not operating under normal conditions.

That was in January 2005. Inexplicably rejected for the policy, he attributed it to the abnormal, biscupid valve — the aortic valve normally contains three leaflets that open and close to direct blood with each heartbeat; Hoiberg's has only two — he has had since birth and discovered his sophomore year of college.

Hoiberg finished the rest of the 2004-05 season and led the NBA in 3-point percentage. But after the final game, Timberwolves team physician Dr. Sheldon Burns sent Hoiberg to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., "just to be safe." There, Hoiberg underwent a battery of tests.

Hoiberg recalls the Mayo cardiologist's news with precise detail eight years after it was delivered. "'You have a life-threatening condition, and you are very, very lucky you found out about it.'"

The Mayo doctors had discovered an aortic root aneurysm: a breakdown in the artery's wall that allows a section of it to expand like a balloon. In their infancy, aneurysms require strict monitoring. But the larger they grow, the more likely they are to rupture.

Hoiberg's was big. He was immediately scheduled for an open-heart operation that would remove the diseased tissue and replace it with a graft.

"That was a kick to the gut," said Hoiberg, now the men's hoops coach at Iowa State. "Open-heart surgery is definitely not something you ever think about as a professional athlete."

The Mayor, once seemingly invincible during his college years in Ames, went under the knife in June 2005. The operation was successful, but post-surgery complications meant he'd need a pacemaker implanted in his left shoulder for the rest of life.

It would cost him whatever may have been left of his playing career.

Hoiberg then began a painstakingly slow, eight-month recovery process. The 32-year-old's wife and four children helped him along, but the prospect of replacing weight training, shoot-arounds and conditioning workouts with strict bed rest and short walks around the block are about as frustrating as it gets for a man who has made basketball his life.

One day, about two weeks after his second operation, Hoiberg turned on the TV. He happened across an emotional news conference, where a visibly shaken Turiaf had some news of his own.