AIKEN, SC (WJBF) - Aiken High's Deon Hicks is back on the court. He's back with the teammates he loves, back running the fastbreak in practice - and back to being a regular high school senior.
"Basketball is life... " Deon said. "I play every day, whenever I have free time I play basketball."
But a few years ago, basketball was taken away from Deon. Following an all-region season as a sophomore Deon lacked the energy to get through the day, even struggling to stand up at times.
"He ended up coming to our banquet in May," explained Aiken coach Tony Harrell. "I called him up to receive his award and he waved me off and said 'I just can't get up coach'."
Hicks went to Aiken Regional hospital the next day where he was diagnosed with Leukemia.
"I just wanted to die," Hicks said. "My mom was in there crying. I was just scared. I was crying every day."
Hicks underwent extensive treatment. Radiation therapy made him lose his hair, chemotherapy made him sick and led to extensive weight loss. Worst of all his smile was gone when coaches and players visited him in the hospital to offer support.
"I remember sitting in the room with him and he's staring off into space," Harrell recalled. "I was just hoping he was hearing what I was saying because he wasn't answering anything, he had just shut down."
But then the doctors told him that he might play basketball again - and the smile returned. Deon had a purpose, and a goal. He missed his entire junior season and was home recovering from treatment most school days.
As a senior, Deon returned to the basketball team scoring 11 points against Silver Bluff in his first game back. But he was still limited to 4 minutes of action at a time and would tire easily running up and down the court. Deon had always dreamed of playing college basketball but the scouts who showed interest after his sophomore year had largely ignored him during his sickness and recovery.
With the help of local physicians Bill and Cindy Besson with whom Deon lived during his recovery, Deon's case was presented to the South Carolina High School League. And with a 14-0 vote they unanimously granted Deon a 5th year of eligibility.
"I found out at about noon," Hicks said. "I was just smiling the rest of the day."
So Deon is back with the Hornets as they prepare for another season. He has a new lease on life and it's one that coach Harrell says inspires his teammates.
"They all look up to him. He's a leader," coach Harrell said. "Everybody has struggles in life, and they see Deon and what he went through - and it inspires them to get through their own struggles."
As for Deon and his fifth year, he plans to pick up where he left off. Both in life and in basketball.
"It's a second chance, that's all that's in my head," Hicks said. "God did this for a reason."
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