Hofstra’s Kvonn Cramer perseveres after injuries kept him off court for years

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It was 1,366 days between games.

One-thousand, three-hundred and sixty-six days from the final game of Kvonn Cramer’s sophomore year of high school to his first college game at Hofstra. March 5, 2017, to Nov. 29, 2020. More than three and a half full years.

In between there were two major left knee surgeries, a redshirt season, doubts about his once-promising future, doctors questioning whether he could play again, tear-filled nights that made this journey seem like a long-winding road toward nowhere.

But on Nov. 29, 2020, Cramer was on the court again, making his debut against nationally ranked Rutgers at the RAC.

“It’s a miracle from God,” his mother, Gwendolyn Brown, said.

“I’m about to play my first Division I basketball game,” the 6-foot-6 Wilmington, Del., native said he thought to himself as he kneeled at the scorer’s table that day. “My heart is racing, I’m kind of nervous, I don’t want to mess up.”

Cramer had all the makings of a high-major prospect in the summer entering his junior year at Mount Pleasant. He was a high-flying athlete with the size and length teams covet on the wing. Seton Hall, VCU, Rutgers, UConn, St. Joseph’s and Temple were among his suitors. Then it all changed. On a dunk in a fall-league game, he heard a pop in his knee upon landing. He had torn his ACL.

Kvonn Cramer goes up for a dunk.

Following a lengthy rehab, he was preparing the following summer for his senior year, hoping to make up for lost time. Out of nowhere, however, the knee would swell up. Eventually, he got checked out. A strep infection had transferred to the knee and eaten up 60 percent of the surgically repaired ligament. They had to redo the ACL surgery, leading to another long rehab, more questions about what was next. But he never considered a different path.

“It’s the person I am — I never quit,” he said. “And it’s the people around me — they never let me quit.”

Cramer still attended all of his high school team’s games and practices, becoming an extra assistant coach. He became Mount Pleasant’s biggest cheerleader. Losses, though, were hard. He felt responsible. After the team dropped the final game of his senior year, he remained in the locker room an extra hour, he was so despondent.

While most of the other schools dropped off recruiting Cramer when he opted for the second surgery, Hofstra never did. It was the lone program to offered him a five-year scholarship. He would redshirt the first season, work his way back into shape and only practice.

“I remember being filled with joy at that point, when they told me that,” he said. “I was like, ‘I’m going to get a chance to play college basketball, make my dream [come true].’ ”

When asked if he had ever taken a player he had never seen work out in person or was coming off multiple surgeries, interim Hofstra coach Mike Farrelly laughed. He had not.

“Crazy, right?” he said.

But Farrelly, filling in for head coach Joe Mihalich who is on medical leave, and Hofstra were convinced he was worth the risk. A close friend, Wagner assistant coach Bobby Jordan who had previously spent time with Cramer’s AAU program Team Final, felt he was perfect for the Pride. His AAU coaches told Farrelly he had high-major talent if not for the knee injury. As a sophomore, he averaged 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists and had put up strong numbers on the AAU circuit.

“How do you get a steal? Someone who is hurt, who is under the radar, doesn’t get seen, plays for a smaller AAU program that doesn’t get out there as much,” Farrelly said. “He was a little bit of a gamble, sure, but so much of this recruiting stuff is a gamble. You don’t know really what you have until they get on campus. Guys that are heralded don’t pan out. Guys that are not heralded pan out.”

The early returns are overwhelmingly positive. Cramer is averaging 7.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals as a key reserve in 23.1 minutes per game. He is coming off his best performance of the young season, a 12-point, five-rebound effort in a rousing upset at Atlantic 10 power Richmond on Tuesday.

In the final minutes, Cramer had a pair of soaring slams, the kind of plays Farrelly talked about seeing in workouts during Cramer’s redshirt year that few players at Hofstra’s level are capable of.

“All the kids are watching him. He’s just a super kid,” Mount Pleasant coach Lisa Sullivan said. “The whole basketball community in Delaware is rooting for him.”

Brown nearly broke down talking about her son’s long road to this point. The doctors telling her he may never play again. The guilt she felt thinking she gave her son strepthroat that led to the second surgery. The doubt about whether his Division I goal would happen. She rattled off the names of everyone who helped her son — coaches, friends, doctors.

“I’m excited, happy, I can’t explain it, oh my God,” she said.

Cramer hopes he’s past all of the injuries now. That he can focus on the career he’s always wanted, and can help Hofstra repeat as CAA champions. But he doesn’t forget what he went through. It’s part of who he is.

“I always think back, because it’s always going to be a memory that sticks with me,” Cramer said. “I cherish the moments that I have now.”

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