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Cassir defies odds in inspirational Hawks SBL return
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Cassir defies odds in inspirational Hawks SBL return

IMAGINE being just 25 years of age having played basketball for 20 of those and at a high level only to be told that not only could you not play again but your knee problems could soon make walking a challenge.

That was what Perry Lakes Hawks and former Perth Wildcats development player Rob Cassir faced last year when suddenly the prospect that his basketball career any level could very well have been over.

His left knee had long been troublesome but he had managed to just get by with a healthier right knee up until early in the 2016 season. The right knee then showed similar signs of degeneration and Cassir was told there were no prospects for improvement or much hope for him to be back playing.

He was told the only option was surgery which could help his ability to walk around and limit the pain he was dealing with, but would leave him unable to move at the tempo and in the directions required to play basketball.

That sure made 2016 a tough year for him and he had almost resigned himself to the fact that it was all over for him on the basketball court. Almost.

Cassir was close to succumbing to the medical advice to have the surgery, but he just couldn’t live with himself or be able to look in the mirror had he not given playing at SBL level one last attempt.

There were few signs that it could happen in 2017, at least early on, until Cassir hit the practice floor a couple of works prior to the season-opener at Bendat Basketball Centre against the Stirling Senators.

Not only was Cassir out there to play his first game in almost 12 months, but he hasn’t missed a solitary training session since and the only game he has missed has had nothing to do with his body.

That doesn’t mean the knee problems are solved. They never will be and Cassir is on borrowed time and there’s every chance he will have them replaced by the time he is 30.

But he has made a successful return to the basketball and no matter how long that lasts, that must be admired.

Cassir’s form has been good in helping the Hawks too as they chase a playoff berth with his defence and ball-handling to run plays continuing to be strong, while in recent weeks his shot has started to fall again too.

“I obviously had a lot of issues with my left knee over the last few years and then in the middle of last season my right knee started doing the same thing. It was pretty tough and all the physios and doctors said that it was probably time that I hung it up,” Cassir said.

“But me being stubborn as always decided I wasn’t ready to do that and I wanted to give it one more crack. I had a small cleanout on that knee to try and help it somewhat, then stuck with my rehab all through the summer but two weeks before the season I still hadn’t been able to train.

“I really wasn’t sure if it was going to happen at all, but luckily I managed to find some sort of way. It still bothers me now and it’s never going to be the same as it was but I’m getting there.”

Given Cassir hadn’t been expecting to be ready to go come the start of the season and it was only once he hit the practice floor that it became a reality, he did feel a bit rusty early on.

But his natural basketball brain and instincts, and competitiveness carried him through until his touch has begun to return in more recent times.

“Two weeks before the season I didn’t think I’d even play one game again, but I’ve only missed one game now this season and that was because of a wedding. I haven’t missed a training session yet and that’s a lot better than I’ve done the past three or four years. I’m pretty stoked,” he said.

“Rusty is an understatement for how I was early and I don’t think I made a shot in the first five weeks, but I’m definitely getting there. With the more time I spend on the court the more confident I feel again and that’s probably the biggest thing for me.”

Basketball has always been a huge part of Cassir’s life and that’s seen him play some outstanding SBL basketball and also earn a taste of things in the NBL with the Wildcats for a couple of years a development player.

But it’s amazing how much more appreciative one can become of the game when they have it taken away from them and when the prospect is that they may never get back out there to play.

That certainly led to some dark moments for Cassir during 2016 but now that he is back out there, there is no way he will take any moment for granted.

“It makes it mean everything to now be back on the floor. The last few years have been the most frustrating of my life but now I’m here and am enjoying every moment. I know it won’t last forever but it is fun while it lasts,” Cassir said.

“There were some very tough moments. I’ve played basketball since I was five and it’s been a massive part of my life the whole time. I went to Willetton High School in the basketball program there so every day basically it has been part of my life. Thinking I would have to give it up was pretty tough and I know I am going to have to do that at some point still, but I wasn’t quite ready last year.

“A lot of things go through your head when you hear something like that. I had a lot of sleepless nights wondering what if and if it’s the right decision to have that surgery or not. I decided I wasn’t ready to do it and wanted to give it one more shot and that way I knew I would never have any regrets because at least I tried. I’ll always feel like I made the right decision.”

As for how he got through those tough times, Cassir couldn’t do it alone and is particularly thankful to his girlfriend and fellow Perry Lakes star Kate Anthony and his family, and Hawks teammates who continued to make him feel part of the team even when he was sidelined.

“I tried to keep busy when things got really tough and family is very big for me. I’ve also got a very supportive girlfriend who helped me right through my rehab over the last summer, which definitely helped,” he said.

“She just happens to be the captain of our women’s team too. It was just mainly her, friends, family and the team and coaches who supported me through it to allow me to try and make this comeback.

“They could have easily written me off but they let me try and I’m grateful for that. I have a lot to be thankful for with all the coaches I’ve had over the years because a lot of time and effort has gone into developing me as a player and I can’t thank them all enough.”

Cassir is loving everything about being back out on the court in 2017 and is making the most of every moment, and he will be doing everything he can to help make sure it lasts into the playoffs and as far beyond that as possible.

“Personally it’s great to be out there but at the end of the day I’m here because I love being involved in the team, and everyone on this team is a great person. As a group hopefully we get it all together to get in the finals and then are able to go as deep as we can,” Purser said.

“I feel so grateful to have got this chance. I’ve accepted that it’s not going to last forever and this might be the last season for me, but it’s a lot more enjoyable having accepted that rather than being frustrated at not being able to do what I used to be able to. That’s a much different mindset for me and hopefully I find a little bit more form for the rest of the season and it shows in my game.”

Going back to 2013 when Cassir was weighing up his SBL future and considering a move away from Willetton, with fellow Wildcats development player Ben Purser at the Hawks and with Shawn Dennis as coach it became a natural choice.

Perry Lakes is now where he is happy to call home and he has never regretted the move since particularly to continue to play alongside Purser who played his 250th game two weeks ago in Kalgoorlie and celebrated it at home last Friday in the win over the Wolves.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better club to have come to. Even though it has been frustrating for me the last few years, all the guys have always stuck by me. So have the coaches and everyone from the club. It’s been really supportive and it has meant a lot to me,” he said.

“It was awesome that we could get a win on his (Purser) home court to celebrate his milestone. You couldn’t ask for a better leader and a better guy.

“He honestly works harder than anyone I’ve ever seen and he leaves everything out on the floor. I’ve said it many times and if you could pick anyone in the league to have on your team, it’s him for sure.”

Anyone who has seen Cassir play, witnessed his communication with his team or talked with him about basketball would be fully aware of the basketball IQ possesses.

That meant that even if he wasn’t able to play again, coaching would have been a natural fit for him and it actually has started this year at the helm of the Hawks’ D-League team.

“I’ve been involved in the game playing since I was five so I can’t imagine giving it up completely. I’m actually coaching the D-League team for us this year and that’s my first step into coaching,” Cassir said.

“I’m enjoying that so far and we’ll see how it goes. I can imagine how frustrating I was to coaches now after doing this role, but I’m enjoying it so far and hopefully it’s something I can pursue.”

Photo by Vikki Hile

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