NCCU walk-on guard had long path to big moment

jalexander@newsobserver.comMarch 6, 2014 

— All he was thinking was “don’t miss it.”

No one was in front of Kevin Crawford II, an 18-year-old walk-on freshman for N.C. Central’s basketball team (24-5), when he stole the ball at the top of the key earlier this month.

His teammates, eyes wide open, were impressed. Crawford just swiped it from the S.C. State guard.

“Ohhhhhhh!!!,” some teammates yelled. Others yelled “Go! Go! Go!”

It was just Crawford and the basket.

For the guard from Columbia, S.C., it had been a long path to get here.

At 6-foot-1, 150 pounds, a mouth full of braces and an affinity for writing, Crawford is not the prototypical Division I athlete.

He said he was lucky to be on NCCU’s basketball team.

“I came here last minute,” Crawford said.

Barely recruited

In high school, Crawford said he wasn’t given much of a chance by his old coach. He didn’t make varsity until his junior year, when that coach was fired. He did start all games as a senior.

But Crawford said he was recruited by only two schools, S.C. State and a Division II school (he cannot remember the school’s name). Neither offered him a scholarship.

Critics told him he couldn’t dribble with his right hand and that he wasn’t big enough play Division I basketball.

“Sometimes I wanted to give up,” he said.

Crawford continued to look for schools to attend if basketball didn’t work out. He visited NCCU with his family.

Crawford walked into the gym and looked up at the banners.

“I want to play here bad,” he thought.

All of his friends were getting scholarship offers and he didn’t want to be the only one not playing ball.

Walking-on

After being accepted into NCCU, a family friend told his father, Kevin Crawford Sr., about NCCU’s Elite Skills Camp.

He signed up.

Crawford was one of a few players coach LeVelle Moton invited to come tryout for the team. He practiced every day.

During the tryout, players were split into teams of five. Kevin’s team was down by two baskets when he helped engineer a comeback. He stole the ball three times and had two layups and an assist that helped win the game.

“I did good,” he said.

Assistant coach Michael Cotton soon called Crawford, congratulating him for making the team.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Crawford said. “Words can’t explain how happy I was.”

Crawford II immediately called his father to tell him.

“Dad, I made the team!” he said.

“I knew you would make it,” his father said calmly, as if he already knew.

Smiling, he hustled to the gym to watch his new team work out.

Moton said the reason Crawford made it was because of his character. “He comes from a good family background,” he said. “He was really coachable, and worked really hard.”

The coach said Crawford has made senior guard Emanuel Chapman a better player this season.

“Kevin gets up and forces him to run the show,” Moton said. “He picks him up full court and he kind of wears him down at times, and he’s been an intricate part of what we do.”

Chapman agreed.

“He’s like a little tick,” Chapman said. “He’s aggravating all the time. He makes me better every day. I’m trying to learn from him and teach him every day as well.”

It wasn’t easy, Crawford said. Sometimes he would dread going to practice.

“Every day was worth it though,” he said.

His older sister by five years, Ashsleigh Crawford, a senior at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., has always been his biggest influence.

A breakaway

Nearly 3,000 Eagles fans were on their feet ready to erupt when Crawford stole the ball.

He’s a crowd favorite at NCCU who hasn’t seen much action – he has played 18 minutes all season and has scored four points, not all against D-I teams). Whenever he checks into the game, the crowd cheers.

“He put the ball right in my face and I couldn’t let it get past me, so I just took it and just went away with it,” Crawford recalled.

The Eagles were in a zone defense when he made the steal.

“That’s typical Kevin,” said his father, who watched with Crawford’s mom on a live stream. “He’s a defensive man. I knew he was going to get that steal.”

There hadn’t been much to cheer about in the last few minutes of the second half. It was a blowout and the Eagles were beating S.C. State 84-41.

But as Crawford neared the basket after the steal, all those watching looked as if they were anticipating something big.

“I can’t miss the layup,” he thought. “Or I’m going to get in trouble.”

He jumped toward the basket, laid the ball in, and scored his first and so far only points against a D-I school. Everyone in the arena jumped up and down, including Moton.

“When he drove to the basket, that was the greatest feeling (me and my wife) ever had,” Crawford Sr. said.

Crawford II acted as if it was just another basket. But he admitted later it was a big deal.

Ashsleigh Crawford was the first person Kevin called after the game.

“I had to get him to calm down so I could understand what he was saying because he was screaming in the phone,” she said with a laugh.

“How many points did you score?” she asked.

“Two points,” he said, voice still excited. “But that’s besides the fact.”

After all, it was a long path to the basket.

Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service