For most of last season, Lasan Kromah would sit sleepless in his bed, taunted by the thought of basketball.
The thought was there when he was watching television, too, or reading, or eating, or listening to music or talking with his friends. Always basketball.
Sidelined for a year after a standout rookie season, Kromah saw the sport everywhere. It blanketed his conversations and his television stations. When he closed his eyes at night, Kromah couldn’t sleep, distracted by images of the game playing out in his head.
Those nights, there was only one thing to do: head to the Smith Center. Armed with 24-hour access, Kromah would let himself in, turn on the lights and shoot.
“Any time, if I was laying down watching TV, and if I saw basketball, thought about basketball, I’d go to the gym. Any free time I had, take a nap, go to the gym, late night, can’t sleep, go to the gym,” Kromah said. “The only people that would be here, I would just hear the janitors clearing the floor at one, two o’clock in the morning.”
Over and over, slicing the ball through the air, the only sound in the building his ball against the backboard, Kromah would silently play against his injury.
“I’m in this building a lot of strange hours and Lasan’s always here,” athletic director Patrick Nero said. “There’s not a day I haven’t seen him in the gym. And I give him a lot of credit. He willed himself there.”
At first, the magnitude of the injury didn’t hit Kromah. After an outstanding rookie season earned him Preseason All-Atlantic 10 third team honors, Kromah was abruptly sidelined before the 2010-2011 season began, felled by a torn lisfranc ligament in his left foot.
He knew he was sitting out for the season, but that didn’t register. Not until he watched his friends try to construct a season without him did Kromah truly grasp what his injury meant.
“It was like if you were trying out for something and all of your friends were with you, but then you were the last person, just left out, we’re going to go without you. I just wanted to be along with everybody and wasn’t capable of it,” Kromah said.
Still, Kromah was determined to remain a part of the team. He was at every practice, including the early morning shooting drills, and sat on the sidelines during games, clad neatly in business dress, willing his teammates to succeed.
It wasn’t easy. Kromah had never been away from the game for such a long stretch, and the feeling of having the ball ripped away from his hands drove him crazy. He struggled to feel like a part of the team, battling crushing guilt at being unable to join his teammates on the court.
Ironically, it was the teammate who shouldered the loss of Kromah who ended up demonstrating how important he still was to the Colonials. Senior guard Tony Taylor, who exploded to lead GW offensively in Kromah’s absence, ran to the sidelines one game and brought the injured guard back to the team.
“I think it was against Boston University, we were down and everybody was talking and at halftime, Tony comes up to me and says, ‘What do you see out there? What can we do better?’ ” Kromah said. “It’s different when you hear it from a teammate than from your coaches.”
With that question, Kromah found his motivation to return to the court. He spent time during games as a de facto coach, examining plays, offering advice, consulting with the rest of the bench. His time on the sidelines gave him a greater tactical appreciation for the game, he said, something he intends to carry with him when he returns to play this season.
With a boot on his foot, there wasn’t much Kromah could rehabilitate on the court. Below the floor where he plays as a Colonial, Kromah waged his greatest battle against his injury. With assistant athletic director for strength and conditioning Ben Kenyon and assistant athletic trainer Shannon Clegg, Kromah began, slowly, to make his way back to play.
The exercises were gradual, Kenyon said. They focused on maintaining the strength and power in Kromah’s legs, slowly increasing the stress and pressure of each workout. The slow pace was often maddening, Kromah admitted, but he pushed through. He would do whatever it took to get back to the game. Kenyon said the guard had his high days and low days, but never once faltered from his goal.
“It’s a long process, the lisfranc, the actual injury. It’s a tough injury to work with, because you don’t want to overstep. He was very anxious to get back out,” Kenyon said. “When it came to squats, lunges, we kept it basic. His feet always had to be on the ground. He could never go into a place where his foot was at an angle.”
It wasn’t easy. Even when the boot came off, Kromah was shocked at how small his injured leg was compared to the other, the result of lost muscle mass after months of being supported.
He worked his way back to the court, and when the strength and conditioning workouts progressed to the point where Kromah was ready to play at full strength, he eagerly grabbed a ball. But even that return, just in time for pickup in May, presented its own challenges.
“I was just so relieved and grateful to be back,” Kromah said. “I didn’t shoot a basketball full speed for three or four months. I needed to make my body used to that type of motion again.”
In practice, there’s little indication Kromah is returning from a severe injury. Spectators might hold their breath as he drives in the paint, but his teammates don’t think twice about charging the guard, doing anything they can to keep him from the basket.
He’s back, Kenyon said, “winning all the sprints,” and drilling shots from all areas of the key.
First-year head coach Mike Lonergan was reduced to studying statistics and film of Kromah, not sure what he’d see once the guard returned to the court. But Kromah didn’t disappoint, Lonergan said, pointing to the speed and athleticism the junior contributes as particularly important to GW’s roster.
During a team scrimmage Oct. 29, Kromah stole the ball from his opponent, zipped around the flustered player to charge down the court, matched by Taylor. Kromah pulled up, examining the court in a flash, and sent the ball to a waiting Taylor, who slammed it home decisively. It was exactly the type of play his teammates have come to expect, recognizing the benefits Kromah adds to the roster.
“Lasan is such a good player that he takes a lot of things to heart, as he should. We could have used him on the court, but he did a great job of just motivating everybody,” Taylor said.
Kromah is itching for the season to start. Spending a year on the sidelines has made him hungrier and determined. Kromah’s ready to return, ready to prove himself after the most frustrating year of his life – one capped by the helplessness he felt on the bench during the Colonials’ last game of the season, when they fell in overtime of the first round of the A-10 tournament to Saint Joseph’s.
“Overtime against Saint Joe’s, oh God,” Kromah said. “We tied the game up, and in my head, as soon as it went to overtime, it was so frustrating. I thought if I was in there, something different might be happening. It made it worse.”
Now, that’s the past.
Now, Kromah’s back, and he’s going to push himself until everyone else knows he’s back, too.
Now, when Lasan Kromah closes his eyes, basketball still dances in his head. But this time, he’s playing.
“Oh man,” Kromah said. “I just know I’m going to have butterflies in my stomach, just nervous and anxious. It’s going to be like the first time stepping on the court. I can’t wait for that day. Even going into the locker room, seeing my jersey, putting it on, tying my laces, it’s just going to be like a whole beginning again.”