Posted on August 14th, 2009
By Mike Barber, Daily News-Record
Eli Crawford knows what you might be thinking. Yes, he took a year off from college basketball, but that doesn’t mean he’s been lying on his couch, dogging Cheetos and pizza, and packing on the pounds.
"I’ve been keeping myself basketball-ready," Crawford said Thursday after officially paying his deposit and enrolling at Eastern Mennonite University. "When it comes time for the first game of the season, I will be ready. A lot of people might be thinking with a year off, I’ve been sitting on my butt doing nothing. That’s not true."
That’s what EMU coach Kirby Dean is counting on. Dean is hoping to get the same player who helped lead R.E. Lee High School to three straight Group AA state title games. The guy who was named the AA Player of the Year as a senior. (Read more about EMU men’s basketball.)
‘A winner at every level,’ says coach
"The biggest reason I wanted him is, he’s been such a winner at every level," Dean said Thursday. "How often do you have a chance to get a kid who played in three straight title games and won two of them?"
More importantly, Dean said, he always saw Crawford as a kid who wanted the ball late in the game and in clutch situations.
"I love kids who aren’t afraid to be the goat," Dean said. "If you’re not afraid of failing, you have the chance to be successful."
Crawford, 21, will have two years of eligibility at EMU. He played as a freshman at Central Florida Community College, then spent his sophomore year at Potomac State in West Virginia. He considered playing for Bridgewater College last year, but did not, in part because of the retirement of longtime Eagles coach Bill Leatherman.
This summer, he turned his attention to EMU, visiting campus, and attending open gyms and summer camps at the Division III school. Crawford took classes at Blue Ridge Community College and worked out with his uncle, former R.E. Lee star and North Carolina starter Kevin Madden.
Crawford just wants to contribute
Crawford said he’s not joining the Royals to become the team’s star or focal point – just a contributor in Dean’s uptempo style of play.
"I’m not going in there to be the man or do anything like that," Crawford said. "I’m just going in there to help them guys win some games."
Dean said he anticipates Crawford to become a major factor for EMU, which went 15-11 last year.
"I don’t think we would take a kid like that with two years eligibility unless we thought they’d instantly be a contributor," Dean said. "We expect him to be a difference-maker right away."
And, Dean said, he thinks the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Crawford will mesh nicely with Dean’s defense-begets-offense approach.
"I don’t think you could fit any better," Dean said. "He’s cut out perfectly for the uptempo style that we play and the transition game we try to stress. He can shoot, he can handle and he can put the ball on the floor and go to the hole. And he’s a good defender. He really brings a lot to the table."
Region’s other stars join roster, too
Also, Dean said former Culpeper County High School star Patrick Thornhill, a 6-2 shooting guard, will be joining the team. In all, EMU is adding nine recruits plus three invited walk-ons. The Royals are expecting to return five players and Dean said he will carry 14 on the roster this season.
EMU, which opens practice Oct. 15, is also considering fielding a junior varsity team that could possibly play Hargrave Military Academy, Fork Union Military Academy and High Point’s JV squad, among others.