Elite 2025 basketball prospect JD Palm fights for his health and career
Palm, ranked 12th nationally in his class, has a kidney disease he’s determined to beat
McEachern High School (Powder Springs, Georgia) center JD Palm is one of the top players in the Class of 2025. Ranked 12th in the ESPN 25 for 2025 and second among centers in his class, Palm (6-feet-9, 210 pounds) was recently diagnosed with a condition that could threaten his basketball career.
In an Andscape exclusive, Palm tells his story.
In the last basketball game of the 2022-23 season I walked on the court to jump center in a state playoff game and my school, McEachern High School, was hype.
Packed gym. Cameras everywhere. And two of the best teams in Georgia — we were at home against Wheeler, ranked in the top 20 in the nation — playing to get to the state final four. From the time I started playing basketball in the third grade when I lived in a small town in Alabama, this was the type of atmosphere I wanted to be in.
I started strong, got an assist and a dunk early. Our home crowd at McEachern High School was going wild and if you saw me in those opening minutes of the game, you would have thought on that night on March 1 that my life — as a high school sophomore who had started most every game during the season — was pretty good.
You would have been wrong.
I played the entire season with a secret that, other than my coaches and teammates, I’ve held back until now. It’s a secret that had me at the hospital the week after that state playoff game, when my doctor told me something I didn’t want to hear.
My kidneys aren’t filtering the blood in my body the way they should.
My kidneys were severely damaged.
I have focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, which is scar tissue in the filtering unit of the kidney. It’s a serious issue. A rare disease. And at some point, I’m going to need a kidney transplant.
Last week, I had surgery to put a catheter in my stomach. My doctor said it needed to be done to get me ready for dialysis. As they connected an IV and they hooked me up to the machines to monitor my blood pressure and kidney levels, there was one main thought going that I had.
I played high school junior varsity basketball in the seventh grade, and varsity when I grew to be 6-9 in the eighth. When the staff at Alabama saw a game I played as an eighth grader, they called my coach and offered me a scholarship. The next day.
That was two years ago, when a YouTube video put me on a lot of people’s radar. Right now I’m ranked 12th in the 2025 ESPN 25.
How long will that ranking last when people hear the news that I won’t play basketball until I get a kidney transplant? That I won’t play AAU basketball this summer, and that I won’t play at McEachern for my junior season.
Last weekend I was with my AAU team at the Tip-Off Classic in Suwanee (Georgia). Watching my team out there, I wanted to be with them so bad.
Watching them, I was frustrated. I was hurting. And I kept thinking of one thing.
Why is this happening to me?
The first sign of a problem was last year, right about the time I had to take a physical to play my first season at McEachern.
I had already played two years of varsity at Dothan High School, which was where the Alabama coaches saw me. When my coach at Dothan called me and told me the best basketball program in the state wanted me, I was surprised.
Here I was, an eighth grader with an offer from Alabama. Back in Dothan where I’m from, that’s big.
But I left Dothan and transferred to McEachern, where I could play with some of the best players in the country and against national competition. No knock against Dalton, but the training facilities in Georgia would help me reach my basketball goals. Those goals are to play in the NBA.
My favorite players are LeBron [James] and KD [Kevin Durant]. LeBron, because he’s the greatest of all time, And KD because he came from nothing, just like me. I like his story, and his MVP speech inspired me.
Anthony Davis is the guy I try to play like. He’s tall, he’s mobile and he’s athletic, and people tell me I should try to play like him.
Back to that physical at McEachern. I didn’t get it that day because of the time I got there. The next day I remember waking up with a headache. My head felt like something was banging against it, and I had never felt anything like that before. I wasn’t worried at first, but when it didn’t go away after three days I was, like, ‘Ma, I gotta go to the hospital.’
We went to the emergency room at Wellstar Cobb Hospital in Austell and waited for, like, 30 minutes before someone saw us. A nurse came out to take my blood pressure, and when she saw the numbers, her eyes got big.
The numbers — 230 over 160 — didn’t mean much to me.
But it upset the nurse, who said, ‘this can’t be true.’
She took my blood pressure again.
She called a doctor and rushed me into a room. They hooked me up to an IV and started to give me a fluid that I found out later was blood pressure medicine.
They hooked me up to a heart monitor, and when I looked at my mother I knew it was something wrong. She understood the numbers. She told me later that she was afraid I was going to have a heart attack at any minute.
From there, it was crazy. I was on an IV, a nurse was drawing blood and another wanted a urine sample. One lady comes in and says they said they had to get me over to Children’s Hospital in Atlanta.
We got there by ambulance, and they took me straight to intensive care, hooked me up to a bunch of machines and did all kinds of tests, including a biopsy.
Everybody was worried. But for the first four days I was in the intensive care unit, I really didn’t know what was going on.
Two days after the biopsy, I got the result. They said it was a problem with my kidneys.
I couldn’t believe what was happening. And my head was still hurting, and I didn’t want to get too emotional because that would only make it hurt more.
The first thing I thought about when they told me? For real, my grandmother. She had kidney disease for as long as I’ve been alive. She was diagnosed when she was 34 and my mother tells me that one year she was fine, and the next year her legs and arms started swelling because her kidneys started to fail.
Watching her suffer, I felt sorry for her. She never walked, and she was always in bed. Sometimes I really didn’t want to be around her because I loved her so much and it was hard seeing her the way she was.
I remember what she went through, and I thought, is this what I’m going to have to go through?
She died during the coronavirus pandemic. She was just 55.
They finally got my pressure down, and I got out of the hospital. I’m thinking, can I play basketball? And the doctors told me if my pressure could stay down enough, I might be able to play the season.
I’m a 17-year-old basketball player and now, in order for me to play, I have to take blood pressure medication. I’d take one pill, then they’d switch to another to get my numbers at the levels that would allow me to get on the court.
I was allowed to play, but I was never myself. I was always tired, my muscles were worn out and my head was hurting. I went from being completely healthy and able to play an entire game to being winded after a few trips down court.
My coach was only allowed to play me 12 minutes a game, in three-minute stretches. I was slow, I couldn’t move like I was used to and even on jump shots I was off. Playing just a little bit really messed with my game, and when I was on the court I couldn’t really perform like I wanted to.
There were moments of the old me. I had 19 and 9 in November when we played against the third-best team in the nation (Duncanville, Texas). I showed that, against the best, I could be at my best.
That was early. As the season went on and the doctors kept monitoring me once or twice a month, fatigue set in more. I never really was able to get into a groove.
What I’m facing impacts you more than just basketball. There’s also a change in the way I eat. I love pizza, hamburgers and pasta. That 4-for-4 at Wendy’s — four items for $4 — that was my favorite.
I’m out with my friends, and they’re grubbing. And I can’t. No beef, no salt, nothing fried. That’s a struggle. And a lot of times, I get mad.
They put that catheter in me last week, getting me ready for dialysis. Seeing my grandmother struggle with her dialysis, I’m not looking forward to it.
As much as I don’t like it, it’s something I’m going to have to do until I get a kidney. We’ve started the paperwork to get me on the transplant list, which I can get on once I begin dialysis. Right now my mother is getting tested. If she’s a match, she told me she would donate her kidney.
This is a lot for anybody, and it’s really hard for me. I’m 17, a teenager, and all of a sudden I have adult things on my plate. My health is at risk, and there’s a lot I have to go through to get back to a normal life.
It can happen. I heard about former NBA player Alonzo Mourning coming back from a kidney transplant, and that inspired me. I was even more inspired when I spoke to Alonzo on the phone last week.
He told me all that he went through, he walked me through what I was going to face and he gave me encouragement.
The most important thing he told me. “You will play basketball again.”
That meant a lot to me. That’s something that I really needed to hear.
When I was sitting there watching the games in the Tip-Off Classic last week, I wasn’t just frustrated and mad. My coach at McEachern, Tremayne Anchrum, once told me I’d be a McDonald’s All American.
I believed that.
I still believe that.
After I get my kidney, I’m going to be back.
I’m going to go hard.
And I can’t wait to show people that I’m the same player.
I’m ranked 12th right now, and that’s going to change when people hear my story. I’m going to miss some time, and I know they’re not going to hold my spot in the rankings.
I plan to come back not only as a better player, but as a player who will be an inspiration for someone who goes through the health challenges I’m going through right now.
As far as those rankings? Don’t worry, I’ll be back.
And when I’m back, I’m gunning for the top spot.