KVonn Cramer’s smile lit up the auditorium at Mount Pleasant High School (Wilmington, Del.)
All athletes are excited on their signing day, when they put pen to a National Letter of Intent and commit to receive an athletic scholarship.
But Cramer had a 100-watt glow as he took off a bright blue hoodie to expose a gray T-shirt that revealed his college destination.
Cramer’s family, coaches and teammates gathered on Jan. 16 to watch him sign to play basketball at Hofstra University.
Even though he missed his last two seasons of high school basketball due to injury and misfortune, he still found a way to reach his goal.
“We miss his athletic talent, his basketball ability. But we still have KVonn,” Mount Pleasant coach Lisa Sullivan said. “Hofstra is lucky. They’re getting a very special young man, in every way.
“He’s the son you always want. He does everything the right way. He works hard. He’s a leader. Never a problem in the classroom.”
Cramer was flying high in October 2017, playing the way he always did.
The 6-7 forward grabbed a rebound against A.I. du Pont and screamed down the court in a fall league game, about six weeks before the start of his junior season.
The Tigers had three players back to defend, but Cramer split them and went up for one of his thunderous dunks.
But he landed awkwardly, and pain started to sear through his left knee.
The diagnosis was a torn anterior cruciate ligament. It’s a common injury in sports, but it requires surgery and nine to 12 months of rehabilitation. His season was over before it started.
After surgery, he began to attack his rehab at the University of Delaware’s STAR Campus and stayed close to his Green Knights teammates, going to every game.
It wasn’t the same.
“It was hard,” Cramer said. “Our first loss, I think it was on a Saturday to William Penn, I cried like a baby in the locker room.”
He couldn’t help but think he could have made a difference had he been on the court. But that wasn’t an option, so he started to treat the games as educational opportunities.
“I learned a lot from not playing,” Cramer said. “I feel like if I was playing, I wouldn’t have learned as much. My basketball IQ wouldn’t be as high as it is now.”
Sullivan noticed the change, how Cramer was approaching the game differently as last season progressed.
“Before, he used to just see the game as a player, and this is the part I play in it,” the coach said. “Now, he sees the game more as a coach, where everybody plays an integral part in it. You know, the dunk doesn’t happen without the assist, without the pass, without the steal. He sees how it all works together now.”
So everyone was excited last summer when Cramer was cleared to resume some basketball activities. He was shooting, starting to dunk again, getting close to returning to some games.
Then in July, his throat started to hurt. He thought he had a cold.
Then his left knee began to swell. His mother, Gwendolyn Brown, took him to the emergency room at Christiana Hospital.
A blood test revealed a strep infection. Since his knee had undergone surgery within the past year, the infection sensed a weakness and attacked his ACL. When doctors went to clean out the area, they discovered that the infection had eaten about 60 percent of the new ligament.
“Basically, there was nothing there,” Cramer said. “They told me they were going to have to redo the surgery.”
His mother had struggled with strep four times within the past year. Although it can never be determined, she believes she passed it on to her son.
“It was very challenging,” Brown said. “I cried. I blamed myself. I thought, ‘I should have noticed.’ I didn’t notice.”
Cramer spent a week in the hospital as the infection was brought under control. A PICC line was inserted into his arm for a month to administer antibiotics.
Late in the summer, a test on his knee showed that thanks to all of the rehab, his left leg was still strong enough to allow him to play basketball this season.
But his mother was worried. She was thinking about his future. She wanted him to undergo a second surgery to receive another new ACL.
His senior season was going to end before it started.
“I was heartbroken,” Cramer said. “I was losing another season of high school basketball that I really wanted to play. My senior year. I know I could have done a lot this year.”
Sullivan was devastated.
“He was on track to come back. He worked hard. Did everything he needed to do,” the coach said. “But it’s just part of his journey. It’s not his fault. Nobody did anything wrong.”