It’s senior night at Frisco Wakeland High School, and it just happens to be the biggest game of the season. The Wolverines need a win against Heritage High School to make the playoffs.
Senior forward Justin Nicholas is returning to the court for the first time since December. Win or lose, this will be his last game.
“I’ve missed it a lot," said Nicholas. "I’ve even had dreams about playing. You know, you never realize how much you miss something until it’s gone.”
Midway through the basketball season, Justin was rushed to the hospital after finding lumps on his body. On Christmas eve, he had emergency surgery for testicular cancer.
“When we found out it was just like ‘wow,’” Nicholas said. “You never know what could happen, you never know when your life could end. You just take little things for granted like playing basketball.”
Surgery was successful, but the cancer had spread. Justin is through three rounds of chemotherapy, with one more to go.
“At first, it was really hard,” said Justin’s mom Gayla Nicholas. “There would be nights where he and I were at the hospital where he’d become very emotional, which was very tough. But he has very good spirits, a very good attitude and he’s handled this extremely well.”
Through chemotherapy, Justin’s health is improving. His basketball coach wanted to recognize that progress on senior night.
“Since it was taken from him so suddenly, I knew coach Harris over at Heritage would be completely on board with the fact if we could work something out, get him in the game, let him score a bucket and just let him get in the box score with his teammates one last time,” said Wakeland basketball coach Brent Benningfield.
To a standing ovation, Justin was welcomed back to the court and introduced as a starter. The two teams allowed Nicholas to take the ball and score the game’s first basket. Wakeland then let Heritage score an uncontested layup to tie the game at two. Nine seconds into the game, Justin left the court knowing his varsity career was over.
On a night that celebrated Justin’s determination, the basketball game had a similar theme. Wakeland hit a game winning bucket in the final minute. Final score, Wakeland 67, Heritage 65.
“It was awesome, a lot better than I thought it would be with everyone behind me,” says Justin. “It was such an amazing night and I want to just thank everyone for coming out and supporting me. It means so much to me.”