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South Dakota teen returns to basketball court after shooting

PLANKINTON, S.D. -- Nick Lawson was fully engaged in Monday's Mount Vernon/Plankinton boys' basketball practice, something he didn't think was possible six months ago.

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Mount Vernon/Plankinton senior forward Nick Lawson (2) listens to head coach Eric Denning during practice Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, in Mount Vernon, S.D. Lawson recovered from a gunshot to the chest in June and is starting for the Titans this season. (Brooke Cersosimo/The Daily Republic)

PLANKINTON, S.D. -- Nick Lawson was fully engaged in Monday's Mount Vernon/Plankinton boys' basketball practice, something he didn't think was possible six months ago.

Lawson, who attends school in Plankinton, was shot in the chest June 22 by his friend Logan Evans, also of Plankinton, with a 9 mm pistol. Evans, who was later convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to 150 days in jail, didn't think the gun was loaded when he pointed it at Lawson and pulled the trigger.

Lawson spent three weeks recovering in a hospital bed in Sioux Falls. The bullet entered the right side of his chest just below his nipple at a downward angle. It exited through his back after tearing a hole in his liver.

Lawson, who participated in football, basketball and track prior to his senior year, said doctors immediately ruled out playing football in his senior season. But he hoped to be able to recover enough to hit the hard court.

"At first they told me no to football because I couldn't have the contact, but they pushed for basketball," said Lawson, adding that he hasn't had any contact with Evans since the incident. Evans graduated last year. "I think a lot of people didn't think I was going to be able to do anything. While I was in the hospital during the third week, doctors said I was recovering faster than anybody they've seen from a situation like this. It made me smile and made me think I could come back sooner than I thought.

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"I was wishing for basketball because right away they took me out of football. I thought maybe I could do basketball and track. I was just hoping."

After eight surgeries and receiving nine pints of blood, Lawson's road to recovery began. He said he was cleared by doctors to play basketball and began to build up his fitness two months before the start of the basketball season.

He was trained by Thomas Gulledge at the Mitchell Recreation Center and spent time in and out of the pool building his endurance.

"I was really out of shape and had to build my lungs back up," Lawson said, adding that he participated in open gyms leading up to the first day of official practice Dec. 2. "I was only able to go for short amounts of time before I had to take a break. It was kind of hard because I wasn't able to do very much.

"In open gym, we only played half court to help me a little bit. I was still dead tired and took a lot of breaks."

Lawson returns as a starter for the Titans. He averaged five points and four rebounds per game last season.

"I think it's huge for our team and it's an inspiration to us to see what Nick has been through," said Mount Vernon/Plankinton head coach Eric Denning, who sometimes questioned whether Lawson would return for the season. "All the kids saw him in the hospital and what tough shape he was in, and to see him battle through that is inspiring.

"Knowing Nick, it isn't surprising that he's back playing. He's really come a long way in the last eight weeks for sure and seems to be getting stronger and stronger all the time."

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In the Titans' season opener Saturday against Kimball/White Lake, Lawson scored 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting. Lawson said he's built his endurance enough to play for four to five minutes before taking a 30-second break, and his team has helped him in his comeback.

"The first day I woke up in the hospital, they were there," he said. "They were cheering me on the whole way. They make fun of me every now and then, with jokes of course, but they're always asking me if I'm OK. It means a lot to me."

Lawson said he's ready to have a good season in his final year playing basketball under Denning. The Titans, who host Corsica/Stickney tonight in Plankinton, are off to a strong start after winning both of their games to begin the season.

"Through all of the training and the rehab, if you put your mind to something, you can pretty much do whatever you want," Lawson said. "Right now, I'm just pushing really hard for a good season."

Related Topics: SOUTH DAKOTA
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