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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Azania Stewart was always a healthy kid growing up.

She had never been to the doctor for anything too serious.

So when UF's freshman center found out she was going to have her kidney removed in September, she couldn't believe it.

"I just randomly got a pain," Stewart said. "It started off as like a charley horse."

The 6-foot-4 newcomer was playing PIG - a shortened game of HORSE - on the practice courts with one of her friends when she realized the pain was too much for her to keep playing.

She went home that night and lay in bed until about 9:30, and then the feeling got worse.

"I couldn't breath," Stewart said. "So my roommate called my trainer, and she came over to my house, and she was trying to calm me down. She just felt around, and then she pushed my back and that was it. I just started screaming."

Stewart went to the emergency room, and scans revealed her left kidney wasn't draining fluids at all.

The doctors filled her up with liquid and saw all of it was going to her right kidney and then decided to remove her left kidney.

UF's coaches didn't think much of Stewart's pain at first.

"My coach, Amanda (Butler), she was like, 'It's fine. It's an infection, you'll be fine,'" Stewart said. "And every day got worse. And it was like, 'OK, you need surgery now.'"

It's easy for Stewart to laugh about what happened now, but she's more concerned with getting back as soon as possible.

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"I was expecting to be up with the rest of the team, and right now I'm playing big time catch-up," she said. "Everything doesn't seem the same when I'm not playing basketball."

If anything, the surgery helped Stewart grow closer to her coaches and teammates.

The day she got out of surgery, her teammates came to see her in the hospital and started making jokes and laughing with her to cheer her up.

"And I couldn't laugh," Stewart said. "I was in so much pain I started crying, and they got so upset and worried that they had to leave."

Senior guard Sha Brooks said Stewart has made it easy for the team to jell in the preseason, even in her recovery.

"Z (Stewart) has a great personality," Brooks said. "She's always happy. I never see Z upset."

Brooks and the rest of the Gators will certainly appreciate Stewart's presence on the low block when she returns to full speed.

The England native averaged 13.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2 blocks per game in her senior season of high school and will bring experience from playing with the Great Britain Under-20 team.

"Even if I'm not playing, on the sideline, my mouth is so big that I'll just help them along, encourage them as much as I can," Stewart said.

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