On road trips last season, P.J. Horgan often had to lie on the floor in the aisle of the bus to relieve the pain in his back. In class, he'd stand up for the entire period because it hurt too much to sit.
The bulging disc in his back hurt so much that Horgan, the top returning scorer and rebounder on The Citadel's basketball team, thought he would have to give up the sport. Last October, coach Chuck Driesell announced that Horgan would not be able to play this season.
But as the Bulldogs (4-11) open their Southern Conference slate Monday night against visiting Chattanooga, the 6-8 Horgan is due to return to the court after missing the first 15 games of the season.
"That's the plan, if everything goes OK (today)," Driesell said before the Bulldogs' practice Sunday afternoon.
Horgan averaged 10.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in 19 games last season, after giving up a redshirt year in the middle of the season when forward C.J. Bray was lost to ankle problems.
The prospect of having Horgan and the 6-7 Bray on the frontline this season after the departure of All-SoCon center Mike Groselle was a promising one for Driesell.
But Horgan had several setbacks with his back over the summer and fall, leading to his decision not to play in October.
A couple of factors led to his decision to return. A request for a medical disqualification that would have allowed him to keep his scholarship was denied; and treatments and physical therapy for his back seemed to help.
Horgan received a series of three epidural shots in his back, and underwent a regimen that included 20 minutes a day hanging upside down on an inversion table.
He began working out about two weeks ago and went through his first full practice on Saturday.
"We all thought he'd be unable to play," Driesell said. "I rely on the doctors and trainers, and we were under the impression it was a done deal. But as time progressed and the information came back, they felt we could give it a shot."
Horgan is not in midseason shape, and said he hopes to play five or 10 minutes against Chattanooga (7-8, 1-0). But Driesell thinks he can help the Bulldogs inside, where undersized freshmen Tom Koopman and Brian White have been coping as best they can.
"P.J.'s a little rusty, but he looks good and he looks like what we need," said Driesell, whose team has lost three straight and seven of eight. "He's an inside presence, a big body who defends well and doesn't get pushed around. Those are the things we were hoping he'd bring for us this year, like he did last year.
"We're excited he's got this chance to come back and play."
So is Horgan.
"I missed playing," he said. "It was totally different going a semester without basketball. You have a lot of free time, but I missed it and am happy to be back."