SAD FAREWELL:

Ramon Ramos said "thank you." Considering what happened last year, the words seemed a miracle.

The 23-year-old former Trail Blazer, whose lifelong goal of a professional basketball career ended in a near-fatal car crash last Dec. 16, returns to his native Puerto Rico today.

"You've been so good to me," he told the staff at the Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon in Portland at a going-away gathering yesterday. "Thank you very, very much."

Speaking slowly in a soft voice, Ramos repeated the "thank you" again and again. Then he turned to the bank of cameras and reporters and asked, "Any questions?"

Ramos's father, Ramon Sr., had requested that there be no questions from reporters for his son, who is not, and probably never will be, fully recovered from the severe brain injury suffered in the crash.

Still, someone did ask if he was anxious to get home. "I've been trying to go home," he said.

The 6-foot-8 Ramos helped Seton Hall to a second-place finish in the 1988 NCAA tournament. He signed with Portland as a free agent and had just been activated by the Trail Blazers when tragedy struck.

The car Ramos was driving in the early morning hours was traveling at 84 mph to 102 mph when it hit a patch of ice on Interstate 5 south of Portland, flew 40 feet and rolled eight times. Ramos, who was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown from the vehicle and landed on his head.

He spent the next two months in a coma. Doctors gave him a 50-50 chance of living. When he slowly emerged from the coma, he was transferred to the rehabilitation institute and five months ago, he was allowed to move back to his apartment with his parents but he continued daily therapy.