- Scott Powers, Reporter
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Northwestern senior guard Drew Crawford attempted to balance an internship and working on his game during the summer of 2011.
Crawford produced a career-high 16.1 points per contest, which ranked sixth in the Big Ten, last season, but now looking back at his year, he believes he was capable of even more if he hadn't tried to juggle everything.
"Last summer was super busy," Crawford said leading up to Friday's first day of practice. "It was hard to have a ton of time for basketball."
Crawford decided to do things differently this past summer. He opted to not pursue another internship and devoted his time to his game. He was in the gym either at Northwestern or with Evolution Athletics trainer Jeff Pagliocca in Buffalo Gove, Ill., constantly this summer.
Crawford and those around him expect that dedication to pay major dividends in his final collegiate season.
"This summer was great in terms of just having the time to get into the gym whenever I wanted to," Crawford said. "I was able to do that all the time. I was in the gym every day.
"Toward the beginning of the offseason, I really focused on things I wanted to get better at. It was just my motivation all summer. I'm not working an internship. I have no reason to not be in the gym. That was my driving force."
Pagliocca has worked out Crawford for the past few years, and he has seen him make strides before. But it was nothing like Pagliocca witnessed this past offseason.
From Crawford's ability to attack the basket and finish, handle the ball with both hands and improve his post play, Pagliocca believes Crawford now has the potential to take the next step this season and even become a possible NBA draft pick.
"We hope it'll translate to the NBA," Pagliocca said said of Crawford, whose father Danny Crawford is an NBA referee. "He averaged 16 points in the Big Ten last season. You can't say he's sneaking up on people. He's been just perceived as just a good college player.
"His athleticism keeps improving. He's dunking the ball a lot easier against bigger guys, and he's playing through a ton more contact against big players. He shoots the ball well enough. He doesn't waste dribbles. He's a pretty efficient player. We'll see what happens this year, but it would not surprise me if somebody wanted him."
Crawford understands he's not on anyone draft board, but he is accustomed to being overlooked and then surprising.
"It was like that in high school," said Crawford, who attended Naperville (Ill.) Central High School. "I was always the kind of player who flew under the radar. I don't mind it at all.
"(The NBA has) been a dream for all my life. That's something I've worked for. It's something that Jeff likes to bring up in every workout. That goes back to what I can do each and every day. That's why I wanted to work hard this summer and get better. But it's individual success after team success. If winning games will gain attention, hopefully we can do that."
Illinois senior guard Brandon Paul also trained with Pagliocca and saw those improvements in Crawford.
"He's definitely hard to guard," Paul said. "I played a lot of one-on-one with him the last few years and working out with him and other college players and guys in the league this year. He's got more confidence. He's shooting the ball well. He's getting the ball and attacking the rim."
It's that aggressive mentality which could be the difference-maker for Crawford this season. Last season he averaged 5.4 points from 3-pointers and 8.2 from 2-pointers. He went to the free-throw line 3.5 times and scored 2.5 points a game from there.
With more buckets inside and especially more free-throw opportunities, Crawford could elevate his scoring average to 20-plus points a night.
"His fearlessness in the paint (has impressed me)," Pagliocca said. "He's looking to dunk the ball when he gets to the paint. He's embracing his body and athleticism. ... He knows he can't just be a catch-and-shoot guy."
Crawford also impressed Northwestern coach Bill Carmody throughout the team's offseason workouts.
"I think he's actually gotten better each year," Carmody said. "Last year, John (Shurna) got a lot of attention deservedly so, but Drew had a terrific year, shooting the ball, a lot of things. I think he's sort of dedicated himself this (offseason) now on the court. I shouldn't say blossom, but I think he'll have a good senior year. I just think he's better at everything. He seems a lot more relaxed."
With his close friend Shurna's departure, Crawford's role will likely expand at least slightly this season. Northwestern appears to be a deeper team than past years, but Crawford will be probably be the go-to-guy in the clutch.
And there's always the yearly NCAA tournament question for Northwestern. The Wildcats have never been there, and Crawford doesn't want to see his career end as another Northwestern player who failed to reach the tournament.
"That's the ultimate goal," Crawford said. "I'm really hoping we can do it this year. That's always been the goal."