This time last year, Shawn Redhage was simply hoping for the opportunity to return to the court.
Major surgery after a fall in January 2011 left his future in the balance and the Perth Wildcats feared they had lost the captain and six-times MVP for good.
Redhage had a dislocated hip, his pelvis was fractured and specialists warned he might never run freely again.
Hundreds of small, yet significant, steps were taken on the long road to basketball recovery and the Wildcats' pre-season hit-out in a suburban gymnasium last August signalled the start of Redhage's inspirational comeback.
In a testament to his supreme willpower, dedication and professionalism, the forward went on to play every game last season as the Wildcats stormed into another grand final series.
But doubts lingered in the back of his mind. There wasn't a single game when the memories of what was a potentially career-ending injury didn't haunt him.
The watershed moment finally came last month in Port Hedland, where an experimental Wildcats team beat Cairns in a pre-season exhibition game.
Redhage led all scorers with 21 points and five rebounds in 27 minutes on court.
"That was probably the first time I've played where I haven't thought about the hip at all. There was no hesitation and for me it was a good sign," he said.
"It's not that I was completely thinking about it when I hit the court, but it was just always in the back of my mind last year.
"I thought I couldn't do things as well as I had done in the past, but now I don't have that."
Redhage's game was different last season. No longer was he the point-scoring machine Wildcats fans had become accustomed to.
He played fewer minutes and his scoring output was down, but his assists increased to their highest level since games were reduced to 40 minutes in 2009.
Many observers thought the injury had forced the changes, but Redhage said it was more about the evolution of the team, with understudy Jesse Wagstaff and maturing import Kevin Lisch taking on greater responsibility.
"My role within the team has changed," Redhage said. "We've got Kevin Lisch, who is the best player in the league, so I don't have to put up big numbers on a nightly basis.
"If called upon, I can score, but I'm getting older and understanding the game, being able to read the game and get other teammates involved. I think that's what makes us a tough team; it's not about one or two guys. You're going to have to defend all of us and we're going to move the ball."
The Wildcats have been installed as championship favourites for the 2012-13 season, which begins on October 5 with a grudge match against New Zealand in Auckland.
· The Taipans surprised the Wildcats in their opening pre-season match in Cairns last night with a convincing 91-80 victory.
"It's not about one or two guys. You're going to have to defend all of us.""Wildcats co-captain *Shawn Redhage *
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