March 7, 2014
The following feature story by NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski was published in Thursday's Northwestern men's basketball game program.
You are Drew Crawford, a special one.
You lead your team in scoring and your conference in minutes played and (unofficially) your sport in encountering double-teams, yet all that is unimportant here. They merely reflect numbers, which are dry, soulless, bereft of blood, and you are so much more than that. "You can't define him in one word, you really can't," your teammate Dave Sobolewski will say when asked about you, and here the emotion in his voice is as palpable as a pounding heart.
"He's a great player. But more important, a great teammate. And more importantly, a great friend. Drew. Oh, man. Ever since I got here, Drew's kind of been my older brother. We really didn't know each other well. Even though we're from the same neighborhood essentially, we really didn't know each other. But ever since I got here, he's been like my older brother. He really took me under his wing my freshman year, and that's something I'll always be appreciative of. What he did for me my first year was great. It's going to be tough to see him leave. It really is."
"I think his character, I really do," your coach Chris Collins will add when asked what defines you. "Everything about him, he's very classy. He's a loyal guy. He loves his teammates, they love him. He's respected by anyone who's around him. Our opponents. Opposing coaches. And he's earned that respect, he's gained that respect by the way he's carried himself and the way he's performed. It's sad that he's leaving. But the one thing I always say is, when you go somewhere and you have that ability to leave your mark when you've gone to a place, then you've done a lot of good things. That's what he's done for this basketball program.
"He just represents everything we want to be about. He's an outstanding player, an outstanding athlete. But, going forward as we build this program, we want to have young men like Drew Crawford
. Guys who carry themselves the way he does, guys who compete the way he does, who have leadership qualities, who excel in the classroom. He checks off every box. For me, he's a model of everything I would like this program to be about."
Your time in that program is now rushing to its end and, on this Thursday evening against Penn State, you will grace Welsh-Ryan with your presence for the final time. You know that will be a nostalgic moment for you, a moment when memories will rush through you with all the force of a tsunami. Yet as that Senior Night approaches you say you are pushing them back, holding them at bay, and concentrating instead on what is important, on getting a win for your team.
This approach is so true to your nature, so true to your character, so true to your persona, which are all decidedly old-fashioned in the very best of ways. You are no prima donna, as so many of your contemporaries are now. You eschew histrionics, which for many in this era of look-at-me are more important than oxygen. You do not pound your chest or stare down an opponent or look to embarrass a beaten foe, instead concentrating always on the stuff of substance. "The things that are important to me," you will explain, "are being a good teammate, working hard, setting a good example for my teammates, being coachable, having a good relationship with my coaches. Those are the things that have really been important to me, and just doing what I can to help my team win games."
You have done that over the years in myriad ways, which too reflects your old-fashioned approach. Sure. You can be pretty as you float through the lane for a baby hook, or when you drop the three that cuts out an opponent's heart. But you also rebound, you also D up, you also throw yourselves into the scrums under the basket, risking life, limb and your good looks in pursuit of a loose ball. "There's so many aspects to basketball. There's rebounding, there's defending, there's scoring," you will say when asked what you brought to the table each night.
"So I think, every night, you just focus on little aspects. Not to look back. But Coach (Bill) Carmody always told me to stuff the stat sheet and just do something in every category and be out there and try and have an effect on the game. That's what I try to do every time I step on the court. Do what I need in the moment to help my team win. Some games that's scoring a lot. Other games that's distributing the ball. It's always defending and rebounding. Those things are consistent. But doing whatever I need to help my team win is what I try to do every time I step on the court."
Now this is not the kind of approach that earns you a slot on the highlight show, not the kind of stuff that is featured among the day's top ten plays. But it is a mindset that earns you respect, which is far more important and what you most certainly have. "I love Crawford. He's an unbelievable kid," is what Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after his Spartans topped your `Cats back in mid-January. "He's kind of what this conference stands for--a tough guy who worked his butt off. I love that kid. He's tough as nails."
"That mean a lot to me because that's something I try to do, work hard and be a guy who's remembered as a good Big Ten player," you say when those words are read to you. "I wanted to play in this conference since I was young. To have that dream come true and to be able to do it, it means a lot that I've actually made it and that I'm looked at as a guy who works hard. That's my hard work paying off."
Now your work is almost finished. You have remaining just this Thursday game with the Nittany Lions and Sunday's regular-season finale at Purdue and then who knows how many appearances in the Big Ten tourney, and then your career will be over. But your approach, your character, your very Self--they all, always, respected the game you play and so you will be long remembered. You left a mark, as your coach says, a mark that Dave Sobolewski finally defines like this. "Just doing everything right," he says. "Obviously, his work ethic. His talent, his ability on the court is what every program wants. But Drew's the kind of guy who's amazing off the court as well. His entire personality, his ability to lead, his ability to be a great teammate--it's really what any coach would want in a program, a guy like Drew both on and off the court.
"I learn from him all the time, both on and off the court as well. Like I said, he's been awesome to me. It's been a blessing to be on his team for three years, it really has. Obviously, we'll be friends for life. It's hard to put it in a couple words. But Drew's been awesome for this program. He's just an awesome guy."
You are Drew Crawford, a special one.
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