FINLEY -- It seems nothing will keep Abi Hamlin from the basketball court.
When the Finley teen learned she had a practice at the same time as a post-Christmas family gathering, she called her relatives and asked them to come by later so she could get to the gym.
And there definitely was no way cancer would keep her away.
Almost 10 months after being diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, Hamlin is in remission and back in uniform for River View High School.
Never miss a local story.
The senior made her season debut Friday night on the Panthers' home floor, starting against Wahluke in a 60-44 victory.
That's an astounding 180 from where she was just a few months ago.
"At one point, I was on my deathbed," she said during practice Thursday night. "I couldn't walk. I didn't have muscles to even move. My dad had to move my legs. Once I was out of the hospital, I went from walking to now I'm playing basketball. It's crazy."
And yet, somewhere not too deep down, she knew she would play again.
"Whenever I want to do something, I try to make it there," she said.
And Hamlin did just that in front of a crowd eager to see No. 13 playing again with her teammates.
In her six minutes on the court, Hamlin held her own against bigger players under the basket. She got knocked down a few times, but "I do that in practice, so I'm used to that," she said after the game.
Hamlin played solid defense, even stealing the ball and dribbling down court for a fast break. And the fans cheered -- some cried -- when she made a free throw with less than a minute to play for her only point of the night.
"One point is as good as 1,000, as far as I'm concerned," said River View coach Bruce Moore. "I was trying to will that thing in any way I could."
Senior captain Kim Gier wanted to honor her friend's comeback by postponing her own important milestone. She needed 15 points to reach the 1,000-point career mark, but she was willing to wait so Hamlin could have the spotlight all to herself, Moore said.
"She came up to me and said, 'Should I not score? I don't want to take away from Abi.' I said, 'Are you kidding me? Score 15 in the first quarter!' "
Said Gier, who finished with 26 points: "I knew I would get (1,000) at some point, but this was Abi's night."
Hamlin was determined to suit up for basketball season, even through a difficult fourth round of chemotherapy and a subsequent lung infection.
"She's a big dreamer," said Moore, who called Hamlin's return the highlight of his 46-year basketball career. "She doesn't allow any limitation to hold her back. Heck, she's 5'3" and we play her in the post."
Though her first practice was a little rocky -- she lost her balance and fell after realizing she didn't have the mobility to get down the court for a fast break -- Hamlin is seeing signs of her old self.
"I get a little sluggish, but every day, my arms, my legs, they get stronger," she said. "I have hair!"
Hamlin was not able to get a fifth and final round of chemo because of her lung infection, but she was released from Seattle Children's Hospital in late summer. After being unable to return to school her first month back in Finley, she gradually recuperated enough to come back to campus.
Now with basketball in full swing, Hamlin is at school each day until fourth hour, then goes home and studies with a tutor before practice. She was declared academically eligible this week to play after a stressful few weeks of trying to get her grades in order.
"A month ago, it looked grim, but she got it done," said her mother, Diane. "She wanted to play. Basketball was her motivator to get back to school.
"This was well deserved. She worked very hard."
Hamlin is keeping on top of her health too. She goes to the doctor for a monthly checkup and still takes some medications, though nowhere close to as many as the 21 she was on at one point during her chemotherapy.
It is weird, though, for Hamlin to see how much the River View student body continues to support her. The picture that circulated around campus after her diagnosis still adorns lockers and hallways. People wear T-shirts with her name to class or practice. She even has been asked for her autograph.
One day, Hamlin said, "a girl held the door open for me and said, 'I held the door open for Abi Hamlin!' "
This type of red-carpet treatment might be the new normal for Hamlin, but there has been familiar comfort too.
"The only time it was normal (upon returning to school) was being with the senior class," she said. "It didn't feel like I was bald or abnormal. These are my true friends."
And she made even more among her former hospital mates.
"They motivate me," she said. "They're my biggest motivators. They remind me it could be so much worse. I was lucky."
* Katie Dorsey: 509-582-1526; email@example.com