By Joe Henricksen
When the final issue of the City/Suburban Hoops Report comes out early next week, Naperville Central's Drew Crawford will be the 2009 Hoops Report Player of the Year. In the 14 years of the City/Suburban Hoops Report there probably has not been a more nondescript Player of the Year Award winner than Crawford.
There were plenty of worthy candidates, including Waukegan's Jereme Richmond, Warren's Brandon Paul, Marshall's Darius Smith and Lake Forest's Matt Vogrich. In the end, though, no player did more for his team than Crawford. No player had a more profound effect on his team than Crawford. His supporting cast in comparison to the other four candidates didn't match up. He did more with less.
Crawford, after a stellar performance on the AAU circuit last spring and summer, emerged as a dominating force. Crawford, who is the Hoops Report's No. 3 rated player in the senior class behind only Paul and Smith, elevated those around him while averaging 24 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3 assists a game. He became a different player his senior year. He began to play with less restraint and was able to let himself go while still playing under control and unselfishly. He's more about substance than style with an old-school, mature game. He's secure, grounded and doesn't get caught up in the hoopla or having to "get his shots." Thankfully, Crawford never embraced the role of the modern-day prodigy.
The Hoops Report has the same feeling towards Crawford as it did when it went against the grain in 2000 and went with Richards star Dwyane Wade as the Hoops Report Player of the Year. That season East St. Louis Sr.'s Darius Miles, who was the Mr. Basketball Award winner, was all the rage, but it was Wade's heart, hustle, attitude, production and overwhelming upside that caught the eye of the Hoops Report. Wade, who finished seventh in Mr. Basketball voting that season, made it impossible to ignore him as the choice for Hoops Report Player of the Year. Crawford did the same this season.
The Hoops Report is not saying Crawford will develop and blossom in college to become one of the world's most dominating basketball players as Wade did, but the fans and media in Illinois don't realize just how good Crawford is and what his potential is. Honestly, it's too bad more people didn't get to enjoy Crawford's talents. He didn't play in marquee events or shootouts. He didn't play at Proviso West or Pontiac over the holidays. He's a special talent who has just begun to tap into his potential.
Before he's done at Northwestern he will be able to play any one of the three perimeter positions. He's got the size and great length at 6-5, along with the versatility, to become the ultimate threat offensively. He's improved his shot and shoots it with range. He's stronger and has the frame to add more weight. And he just has a calming presence about him when he's on the floor.
In 14 years of the City/Suburban Hoops Report and getting to know different kids, watching them play, seeing how they conduct themselves, talking with them, I don't know if there is another kid that is more mature, respectful and grounded than Crawford. When speaking with him you feel like you are talking with a 30-year-old rather than a teen. He just gets it.
Now Crawford, who is an elite student, is the prize recruit for coach Bill Carmody at Northwestern. Tavaras Hardy, who has become an influential assistant coach, played a big part in Crawford's commitment and with the recent recruiting success.
Securing Juice Thompson from Lincoln Park two years ago was big for the Northwestern program. Last year's recruiting class, highlighted by 6-9 John Shurna of Glenbard West and 6-10 Kyle Rowley of Lake Forest Academy, maintained the recruiting momentum. But getting Crawford, who chose the Wildcats over Wake Forest, was a recruiting coup. He's the potential difference-maker, the type of player who could develop into a legitimate star, a local icon fans can attach themselves to, which that program has so desperately been seeking.
Yes, there will be some pressure on Crawford in Evanston. The Hoops Report believes he will start from day one in Evanston and take over Craig Moore's position at the off-guard spot. However, Crawford will be coming into a situation where there will be plenty of veterans around him in guys like Thompson, Kevin Coble and the freshmen that earned significant minutes this past season. Plus, the intangibles Crawford brings will allow him to handle the early pressure. He will be a fun one to watch develop in his four years at Northwestern.
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