Nova Southeastern University basketball

Nova Southeastern guard Brian Cahill perseveres through two back surgeries


Special to The Miami Herald

Brian Cahill can’t sit still.

Cahill, a 6-4 sophomore combo guard at Nova Southeastern University, is almost always moving, standing or lying down. Even when he is on the bench, he doesn’t sit.

About the only time he sits is in class, but even then, he makes sure to move around in his seat.

“I don’t just sit there like a statue,” Cahill, 22, said.

Cahill’s state of being has nothing to do with hyperactivity and everything to do with the two back surgeries that nearly ended his basketball career and endangered his long-term health.

He first hurt his back during his one year of prep school at Fork Union in Virginia. He played the entire season despite significant pain.

Nova coach Gary Tuell offered Cahill a scholarship even though he knew the player had a herniated disk — and it turned out to be a smart move.

Rookie honor

Cahill had his first back surgery in July of 2009 and was able to return to the court in less than four months, averaging 9.1 points and three assists as a freshman. He played every game and was named the Sunshine State Conference’s Rookie of the Year.

Tuell said Cahill won the award even though he was only about 75 percent healthy.

“There was still pain,” said Cahill, who had taken cortisone shots before back surgery, which is considered the last resort.

Things got worse, though, on June 14, 2010, when Cahill reinjured his back. He was in Virginia doing the squat exercises Nova had prescribed when he felt his back “lock up.”

This time, Cahill had an even more complex surgery, which required nearly four hours to complete.

Long recovery

He withdrew from school and took two years to fully recover. By the time he came back to Nova, only two players — Jacob Reed and Lukas Roesch — were still on the team from his freshman season.

Cahill, though, has adjusted well and leads Nova (5-3) with 10 steals. He also ranks fourth in scoring (8.4) and assists (13).

Last week, in a 77-76 win over Southern Indiana, Cahill had a steal with eight seconds left to set up Nova’s winning basket.

Tuell called it the best win in his nine seasons at Nova, considering that Southern Indiana entered the game unbeaten and ranked seventh nationally in Division II.

Cahill said it was his biggest win as well — other than his victory over his back issues. He recently pulled through a tough part of the schedule where Nova had five games in nine days and, other than some soreness, his back held up well.

“He’s much more active now than he was as a freshman,” Tuell said. “He’s quicker, stronger, jumps higher. He’s probably at 90 percent, which is remarkable considering his surgeries.

“He’s got three things most guys don’t have: court awareness, great hands and tremendous confidence.”

Tuell said the surgeries keep Cahill from getting low and in a proper defensive stance, but other than that, he’s pleased with his overall play.

Final shot

Cahill knows this is his last chance to play basketball.

“Some of the [doctors] I saw said that in 15 to 20 years, I might not be able to walk normally,” Cahill said. “I thought about not trying to play again, but I’m being smart about it.

“I’m not trying to play through severe pain. I’ve gotten to know my body pretty well, and I know what’s major pain and minor pain.”

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