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Wheelchair game hits home

Each year, as part of the Wheelchair Charities HS Basketball Classic, Hank Carter has every player visit the Coler-Goldwater Specialty Hospital and Nursing Facility on Roosevelt Island. During the visit, he brings them into a room to share their experiences. Players often discuss the effect of seeing teenagers just like them unable to walk again.

When it was Armell Hogan’s turn, he made his teammates drop their jaws. Just a year ago, he was one of them.

“There wasn’t a dry eye at the table,” said Holy Cross Assistant Coach Lloyd Desvigne, a longtime Wheelchair Charities volunteer organizer.

The 18-year-old Hogan told his peers how important just being able to run up-and-down a basketball court is to him. Just a year ago, he was in a wheelchair for several months.

At the age of 12, he suffered a hard fall, injuring his back. In December 2007, during his senior year of high school, he incurred a similar crash while playing with the Long Island Lightning AAU team at Island Garden, this time far worse. Hogan, who averaged 11 points and four rebounds per game for Hillcrest High School as a junior, was diagnosed with a herniated disc that pinched nerves in his back. It hurt to stand up, with pain shooting through each leg.

“I woke up one day and I couldn’t walk,” he recalled.

Doctors encouraged reconstructive surgery. Hogan, instead, worked his way back through rehabilitation and prayer with his father, Richard Hogan, a pastor at Devine Delivery Ministry in Jamaica. He helped with his father’s anti-violence youth group Brothers Against Killing Each Other.

“He reached the kids I couldn’t reach,” Richard Hogan said.

Said Armell Hogan: “I had faith I could do it.”

Eventually, he started walking and lightly jogging, with one thing in mind: this year’s Wheelchair Classic. After earning his diploma from Hillcrest HS, he spent the last year away from school, tending to his sick grandmother, Estelle Bunton, who had suffered from a series of small strokes, and building his body up. He played in the IS 8 fall league last fall and is again competing this spring.

But what motivated him was being in a wheelchair one year and playing in the game to raise money for those still suffering from handicaps the next.

“It meant a lot for me to give back,” he said. “Once I felt the feeling in my legs come back, I said, ‘I’m coming back.’ … Hopefully what I went through can help them in some way.”

Said friend and teammate Isiah Stokley, a star senior at Thomas Edison HS: “We talked about how this is more than a game. It’s a blessing. I can’t believe it.”

Taking in all the action, Richard Hogan enjoyed it just as much. During his lowest moments, when there were doubts he would ever walk again, Armell Hogan never complained. He didn’t pout. He relentlessly worked his way out of the wheelchair, telling everyone he would play the game of basketball again one day.

“It’s like watching your kid take his first steps all over again,” he said.

Hogan doesn’t plan to stop his progression now. He is taking part in several showcase tournaments for unsigned seniors and looking to find a junior college. He wants to play college basketball, no matter what level.

Desvigne has noticed Hogan’s confidence return. He still isn’t the player who averaged double figures at Hillcrest in his junior season, but considering what he went through, his transformation is remarkable.

“Some people don’t see the difference in him — that’s how far he’s come back,” Stokley said.

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