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Former Cardozo star rebounds from knee injury

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Lauren Cargill has burst onto the women's college basketball scene, but it's been a long road since December 1998 when her future as a promising young athlete was imperiled on the same court where she starred for Cardozo.

Her mother, Nanette Ross, was late to the gym that afternoon on Dec. 15, 1998. As she entered and took her seat alongside the other parents, they immediately informed her of how well her daughter, Lauren Cargill, was playing.

"Lauren's on fire," one said.

"She's playing great," another added.

And then the unthinkable happened. Two days shy of the one-year anniversary of tearing her anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, Cargill, a senior on the Cardozo girls basketball team hit the floor, writhing in pain. Cargill, who was having a fantastic senior season with the Judges, grasped her right knee. Ross knew immediately the prognosis was not good.

"The first one was a shock, but then we got through it," she said. "And then, within a matter of minutes, I saw it all over again because I knew that she wasn't getting up."

Cargill scored 13 points and hit six of her first seven shots before tearing her ACL in her right knee. After being heavily recruited by Division I and Division II schools, Cargill thought her basketball career was over.

"I really didn't want to come back, I wasn't going to play basketball at all," said Cargill, a 5-foot-8 guard. "Because I wasn't going to play anymore, I didn't respond to a lot of schools that were recruiting me so I sort of missed out on that."

"It was something that was so hard to believe," Cardozo girls basketball coach Larry Carradine said. "The first one was bad enough, but for her to go down a second time, it was just so unfair. No words can describe how terrible a situation it was."

But Cargill, who recently moved to Valley Stream, L.I. from Fresh Meadows, just couldn't quit. The love of a game she had played since she was a little girl was there and playing ball was something she had missed. While the scholarship offers from various colleges vanished, Derrick Harrison remained interested.

The Corona native had just been hired as the head coach of the City College of New York women's basketball team and his first call was to Cargill, who played AAU ball for him on Harrison Hoops. The random phone call paid major dividends because Cargill decided she'd give basketball another chance.

And a little more than a year after injuring herself, Cargill is the leading scorer for the Beavers, averaging 23.3 points per game. She is also on the top of the CUNY scoring list and was second nationally in scoring, as of Jan. 16, behind Holly Patterson of Johnson State, who is averaging 24 points per game.

"I'm overwhelmed right now, but then again I feel I deserve it because of all the hard work I put in," Cargill said. "I'm not cocky about it. I know there's a lot of room for improvement and I want to be the best I could be."

Coming back from the second knee injury was an ordeal for Cargill. She went to therapy almost every day for three to four hours a day for six months. Following that was an intense program to return to the level she was at in high school.

"I shoot a lot more, I practice my jump shooting all the time," she said. "I take 750 shots a day. It's constant. My coach constantly tells me to practice my shooting and I'm hard on myself."

While Cargill is working on getting back to 100 percent physically, the mental aspect of her injuries is still something she has trouble dealing with.

"I'm constantly in the training room, stretching, icing. I'm really scared," she said. "In the game, you forget about everything, you just focus in on the game, but sometimes, like if I see a ball and I want to dive for it, I think twice still. Hopefully, I'll get out of that. I'll just get stronger in my legs."

Cargill exploded on the scene for CCNY right away. She was named CUNY Rookie of the Week two straight weeks in the end of November. She scored 34 points in a loss to FDU-Madison and 28 points, including three straight three-pointers, to spark City to a 47-41 win over John Jay, its first victory of the year.

"I never expected she would have the impact that she has now," Harrison said. "My goal when I brought her in was to start laying the foundation of building a team and she's come in and just taken the lead."

Harrison said he sometimes even forgets Cargill is a freshman when she is on the court.

"She'll make mistakes that most freshman will make," Harrison said. "I'm yelling at her thinking she's a senior and this girl is just learning college basketball. She's been out of the game for two years. With her maturity sometimes I just have to sit back and remember that she is just 18 years old."

While she is happy with simply being able to play the sport she loves again, Cargill admits she would be willing to transfer from non-scholarship CCNY to a Division I or II school that has athletic scholarships.

"I would like to play for a scholarship," she said. "If there are opportunities to play on the next level and I'm healthy, I'll definitely look into that, but right now I'm having fun and enjoying everything."

While she is getting plenty of attention as the top player on CCNY, Ross is still worried for her daughter.

"My concern now is, being in a Division III school and being the top player, they play her all game," she said. "Quite frankly, as a parent, I'd like to see her sitting down on the bench and not being abused so much because I am concerned.

"I know that if she had a chance to go to a D-I or a D-II, she'd be sitting down a little bit so there wouldn't be so much stress on her body," Ross said. "All I do is just say a prayer and accept whatever comes our way and I pray there is no more."

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