NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski caught up with Northwestern senior forward Drew Crawford and head coach Bill Carmody on Saturday, following Friday's announcement that Crawford would miss the remainder of the 2012-13 season to undergo shoulder surgery.
The problem had lingered since that January night in Iowa back in 2011. That is when Drew Crawford, then the 'Cats sophomore forward, went up for a rebound, got undercut, threw out his right arm to brace himself for the fall and, on impact, dislocated his shoulder. "That's when it first popped out and I think that's when the damage was done," he recalled Saturday. "Then it's continually got worse."
Still, even as it got worse, he played on. He played on all through last season, averaging 16.1 points-per-game on 48.4 percent shooting, and he played on through the first 10 games of this season, averaging just 13.5 points in them on 40 percent shooting. Between then and now, he would surmise on Saturday, that shoulder would pop out five more times, yet still he wanted to play on. "That was my goal at the beginning of the year," he said.
"I've been playing with this for a couple of years now. It's always been bothering me a little bit. But that's what I wanted to do, play through it. But when it continually bothers you, that's tough to do. It's just one of those things that wasn't getting any better. It keeps holding you back. It gets tough to play with things like that."
"He tried for a few games. But it's so limiting, you can't do what you normally can do. So," 'Cat coach Bill Carmody soon said. So the decision was made to shut Crawford down for the rest of this year, and to seek a medical hardship waiver that will allow him to return next season after he undergoes surgery for a torn labrum.
"It was just one of those tough things," Crawford would say of that decision. "Obviously, I would have loved to finish this season with my team because I think we're a great team, that we're capable of a lot. But it got to the point where I didn't think I could help my team in the best way, and I didn't want to put them through that and I didn't want to myself through that. So that was the decision we had to make."
And just what was it that he couldn't do?
"Probably the biggest thing is the physicality around the basket. When a shot goes up, I'm turning to box out, I got big guys coming behind me, I'm trying to hit them with my arm, and that's popping my shoulder out, and then it's like searing pain. Then it's sore, sore for days after that. It was tough."
Was there a certain moment when he realized he couldn't go on?
"I don't think there was one specific time. It was just something that was continually wearing on me. It didn't seem to really get much better, and I felt like I wasn't helping my team the way I needed to. It's tough. But it's something you have to deal with. . . I knew I was going to have to have surgery eventually. But at the beginning of the season, I was hoping I could finish the year and fight through it. But it continually got worse, and I wasn't able to do that."
QUICKLY NOTED: A player is granted a medical hardship waiver if he plays in less than 30 percent of his team's regular-season games. The 'Cats have 32 games on their schedule, making the total 9.6 contests. Crawford has played in 10 games, which is still allowable as the total is able to be rounded up to the next number. So, when asked if he's certain he will be granted the waiver, Carmody said, "We're fine. We did our homework on that.". . . Freshman Kale Abrahamson is likely to start in Crawford's place in the 'Cats next game, which is Monday night at Welsh-Ryan against Texas State. "But I think it's just an opportunity for a bunch of guys," said Carmody, who then mentioned freshman Sanjay Lumpkin and Texas Christian transfer Nikola Cerina as well as Abrahamson. . . Lumpkin has appeared in only one game after being sideline by mono, but is expected to be available Monday. But Cerina, who sprained his ankle in his only appearance of the season, is still hobbled and, said Carmody, "probably a week away (from returning).". . . "Everyone recognizes the loss," Carmody said when asked how Crawford's decision effected the team, then he went searching for an analogy. "But, again, a few years ago, our football team had this guy, a good quarterback, he got hurt in the last game, they went to a bowl game, they put a new quarterback in, he got about 205 yards rushing."
Kain Colter, someone suggested.
"No. This big guy."
Mike Kafka, someone shouted, thinking of that day he replaced C.J. Bacher and ran wild not in a bowl game, but against Minnesota.
"One of those big guys came in there," Carmody finally said. "I don't want to go Wally Pipp stuff and all. But this is a chance for all these guys to get in there and play. So. They feel bad for him. But now you move on and you go on."
(Scribbler's note: Wally Pipp, a Chicago native, was the starting first baseman for the New York Yankees from the start of the 1915 season through June 1, 1925. But the next day, June 2, he arrived at the stadium with a splitting headache and removed himself from the lineup with the approval of his manager, Miller Huggins. "Wally," he told him, "take the day off. We'll try that kid Gehrig at first today and get you back in there tomorrow." But that was the day Lou Gehrig, The Iron Horse, started his streak of playing in 2,130 consecutive games, and so Pipp never did get back in there.)