Before transferring to Eastern Mennonite University for his junior season in the fall of 2009, men’s basketball standout Eli Crawford (Staunton, Va./R.E. Lee) had little exposure to the Anabaptist-Mennonite community. Even though he grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, his previous collegiate playing time had been at Potomac State in West Virginia and Central Florida Community College.
“These Mennonites are dedicated when it comes to studying,” he says, smiling. “I’ll see them heading to the Campus Center at 1-2 a.m. for a study group. I’m shaking my head, thinking I’m going to bed if it’s that late.”
Strong work ethic
Regardless, anyone who has seen Crawford play will soon realize that there is no lack of work ethic when it comes to his game. Now a senior, he says that extends to the classroom as well.
“I may not always get the top grade, but I will always work to attain the highest grade when it comes to effort,” Crawford states. “This applies to all areas of my life, on and off the court and academically.”
“Coach Kirby Dean keeps me accountable as well,” Crawford adds. “I’ll be talking in class or listening to a lecture and look over to find Coach sitting beside me. The guy will just sneak up on you like that, but I appreciate that he cares about all areas of my life. That extends to the EMU community as a whole. I definitely made the right choice. They treat you as family here.”
(Crawford was recently interviewed on the radio program “Inbounds with Mac MacDonald.” Listen to the interview online)
One tough decision
The Staunton, Va., native had many athletic options coming out of high school. He not only excelled at basketball, but was a star football player as well and was initially recruited by several large universities for gridiron play.
“It was a tough choice between the two for a while. I was versatile on the football field, playing quarterback, receiver, corner, tailback and having a number of record kick returns. In the end, I realized that my passion was basketball. I started playing when I was 4 or 5.”
Had it not been for his basketball decision, Crawford likely wouldn’t have ended up on EMU’s campus. He credits God for leading him here and for giving him a love for children. Crawford’s major is liberal arts with an emphasis on recreation and sports, and he sees himself continuing to be a positive role model for kids in the future.
“I stayed out of trouble as a kid, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had my times of personal adversity,” he said. “I can see God’s work in my life, and I want to extend that knowledge to the next generation and be there for others the way that people have been there for me.”
Playing basketball as a team
The idea of “community” that is cited often by EMU students is exemplified in Crawford’s worldview and approach to athletics. Asked about the best part of his game, he replies: “It’s never based on me. I’ve always approached basketball as it should be played – as a team sport. I’m constantly checking with the coaching staff to see what areas I can work on to improve my contribution to the team.”
There is much excitement about the 2010-2011 season, with EMU’s men’s team having won the Old Dominican Athletic Conference regular season title last year, reaching the Elite Eight in NCAA Tournament play and finishing fourth in the final NCAA Division III basketball poll.
The Royals started this season ranked 3rd in the country in Div. III and look forward to continuing their successful run with all five starters being seniors. Crawford was named an Honorable Mention All-ODAC player in 2009-2010.
“I’m ready to get in there and see what we can do this year,” he says. “One of my biggest focuses has been working with the incoming freshman and making sure the chemistry is there with the younger guys.”
Crawford also has a message for the fans: “I hope you come out to all the games this year. We’ve worked hard, and we’ll give you our top effort each time we take the court.”
After handing non-conference opponent Ferrum its first loss of the year on Jan. 3, the Royals are 9-1 overall and ranked No. 10 in the nation. With the bulk of the ODAC season ahead of them, the men are also 2-1 in league play.
Crawford radio interview on “Inbounds” available online
Eastern Mennonite men’s basketball player Eli Crawford (Staunton, Va./R.E. Lee) was interviewed on “Inbounds with Mac McDonald,” and the audio from that is now available on the EMU website. The sports talk radio show is heard around Virginia on weekday afternoons.
Crawford talks about playing for Coach Kirby Dean, choosing to focus on basketball out of high school, and how he has grown through his time at EMU.
The audio is available through EMU Athletic Director Dave King’s blog “Inside Athletics.” King also produces a weekly podcast where he takes a deeper look at impacting students through athletics at Eastern Mennonite. The podcast posts weekly every Friday.