Brian Lester, NCAA.com

Imagine your worst fear. Now multiply it by a million. That is only a fraction of what Northern Kentucky’s Dustin Maguire has been through the last couple of years.

Once a rising basketball star for the Norse, Maguire has watched his life turn upside down in slow motion. He has dealt with the kind of unimaginable adversity that no 23-year-old should ever have to come face-to-face with.

At first, he only had to worry about a back injury and the possibility that his basketball career might be over. In time, testicular cancer would rear its ugly head. His fear shifted from not playing basketball again to death.

“It’s been tough to deal with everything,” Maguire said. “It all started with a back injury, but once I found out I had cancer, I wasn’t as focused on basketball. I was focused on my health. But I’m mentally tough and I believed I was going to overcome it.”

NKU head coach Dave Bezold is aware of Maguire’s fighter mentality and never doubted his player's ability to battle cancer.

“He is a fierce competitor,” Bezold said. “He works hard at everything he does. He doesn’t like to lose in anything.”

Perhaps that is why Maguire didn’t let cancer bring him down. He first learned he had it in May of 2010. He thought he was in the clear when he had his cancerous left testicle removed.

Life seemed to be back to normal at that point. Although he played only a handful of games in 2009-10 because of a back injury, Maguire appeared poised to play this season as he worked to rehab his back after having surgery in July to relieve the pain of a herniated disc.

He was enrolled at the Chase College of Law and was on track to lace up his sneakers for the Norse one last time. Then came the news that derailed the dream. A routine blood test revealed the cancer was back.

“The cancer had spread to my lymph nodes," Maguire said. "I took a medical leave of absence and went through nine weeks of chemotherapy. I thought I was done after that, but it seems like every step you take, you think your done and then something else comes up.”

The lymph nodes did shrink and he was cancer-free. In late December, he was told he would need to have his abdominal lymph nodes removed or roll the dice with his health.

Without the procedure -- retroperitoneal lymph node dissection -- there was a 60 percent chance the cancer would return. There is only a two percent chance that the cancer would come back if he did have the surgery.

The description of the surgery is enough to make a person with nerves of steel cringe. Maguire had to be cut from the chest area down to about three inches below his belly button.

“It was pretty intense,” Maguire said. “I would read about it but didn’t want to read too much and freak myself out. I was scared and obviously my family was, too. But I had confidence that the surgeon would do everything right.”

It is almost the middle of January and the Norse is one of the better teams in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. Maguire would give anything to be with the team. Instead, he is at home in Illinois recovering from the surgery but still follows NKU on the radio.

He still feels as if he is a part of the team, and for good reason.

Earlier this season, the Norse played Cincinnati-Clermont in a non-conference affair. It doubled as a benefit game for Maguire and the Norse rolled to a 103-58 win.

“The support of NKU has been unbelievable,” Maguire said. “The coaches and players are part of my family. It’s the little things that mean so much. I appreciate everything they have done.”

Maguire has accepted the fact that his playing career is finished. It isn’t easy. Not when Maguire had the potential to be one of the brightest stars in the game.

After a spectacular high school career in which he was named the Class 2A Player of the Year in Illinois, he headed to Saint Louis University to enjoy his dream of being a college basketball player.

Before the start of the 2008-09 season, he transferred to NKU and immediately made his presence felt, torching Louisville for 33 points in an exhibition game.

He would carry that momentum into the season, averaging 15 points per game, drilling 76 3-pointers and finishing the season as the best free-throw shooter in the country (93.6 percent). He helped propel the Norse to a GLVC tournament championship and to the NCAA Midwest Regional.

“It was a great season,” Maguire said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I have a lot of great memories from that year and I will cherish them forever.”

Maguire entered the next season as a preseason All-American but played only a handful of games because of the back injury he suffered a year earlier in the semifinals of the conference tournament.

He figured he would get a chance to bounce back, that is until he learned the cancer had returned in the fall of 2010.

Yet, he plans on staying close to the game. Not only will he return to law school this fall, but NKU will honor the final year of his scholarship and allow him to serve as a grad assistant.

“Honoring his scholarship is the right thing to do,” Bezold said. “He is a great person and has instant credibility with the team because of his success as a player”

Maguire is looking forward to getting into the coaching profession. He has had experience at it while giving shooting lessons to children.

“I’ve worked with about 10 kids and enjoy sharing my knowledge of the game,” Maguire said. “It’s tough knowing my playing career is over but I’m looking forward to living a normal life. I worked hard to be the best I could be as a player and I want to do the same as a coach."