Westover basketball star T.J. Cromer, center, is surrounded by hoards of friends, family and his head coach, Dallis Smith, back row, third from right, as he signs with Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne, Fla., on Monday at the school. (email@example.com)
ALBANY — There are thousands of sports stories about being in the right place at the right time.
And now you can add T.J. Cromer’s to the list.
Cromer, who was a Herald All-Area player in football and a runner-up for The Herald’s Willie Boston Player of the Year in basketball, signed a letter-of-intent Monday to play basketball for Eastern Florida State College (formerly known as Brevard Community College).
About the only person happier at the signing ceremony other than Cromer was his new coach.
“We are really happy to be getting him. I believe we are getting are absolute steal,’’ said EFSC coach Jeremy Shulman, who didn’t even know Cromer’s name until the Class AAAA state playoffs.
Cromer, who lifted Westover on his shoulders and took the Patriots to the Elite 8, and his teammates faced eventual state champion Eagles Landing in the state quarterfinals. Shulman was at that game because he was recruiting one of the players from Eagles Landing.
Then he saw Cromer.
“I spent the whole game texting my assistant coach,’’ Shulman said. “I kept texting him telling him to find out who No. 10 was for Westover, to find out what he could about T.J. I told him, ‘I love this kid.’ ”
That’s how Cromer ended up landing in Florida.
“I just fell in love with T.J. that night,’’ Shulman said. “I had no plans to recruit him before that game, but I wanted him after I saw him play. He’s great with the ball in his hands. I think he will play at a very high level at Division I. I think he is not only one of the most underrated players in Georgia but one of the most underrated players in the country.’’
Cromer had talked to a couple of other schools, but said he knows he is making the right choice at EFSC and believes this is the next step to being a Division I star.
“That is something that has always been my dream, to play Division I,’’ said Cromer, who plans on majoring in criminal justice in his two years at EFSC before moving on to a Division I program. “There’s no doubt in my mind about that. I feel thankful and I feel blessed that God put him there to see me that night. I plan on working hard and getting better.’’
Cromer visited the campus in Melbourne on Florida’s East Coast (an area known as the Space Coast) and had no doubt he wanted to go to school there.
“I fell in love with the beach and everything else,’’ Cromer said. “I felt really comfortable there, and they made me feel like they were my family there.’’
Cromer had a monster season for Westover and carried the Patriots into the playoffs with a memorable performance in the Region 1-AAAA tournament, where he scored 66 points in two games and led Westover to the region title.
He was a Herald Super 6er and two-time Herald All-Area selection. He averaged 23.3 points per game, and handed out 2.5 assists, while making 2.8 steals a night as senior. He also blocked at least one shot a game from his guard spot on the floor, where he was the team leader.
“He’s a steal for them,’’ Westover coach Dallis Smith said. “He’s a Division 1 player. He carried us the second half of the season and in the playoffs. He just took it to another level.
“He’s knows the game of basketball and he makes everyone around him better. And he has that swagger, that swagger and confidence on the court. It’s funny, they only saw T.J. play in that one game and they wanted to sign him, and that wasn’t even his best game that night.’’