Saturday, December 8, 2007
Younger Crawford, Indiana get best of Kentucky
By Pat Forde ESPN.com
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A few years ago, Joe and Sylvia Crawford could never have envisioned being here in Assembly Hall, dressed half in Kentucky blue and half in Indiana crimson.
They could never have envisioned their son Joe as a struggling senior for the wilting Wildcats. Or son Jordan as a precocious freshman for the promising Hoosiers.
They certainly couldn't have envisioned a day when Jordan (the overlooked one) would score 20 points on Joe (the overhyped one). And Joe would muster only 10 harmless points in response. And Jordan's team would blow out Joe's, 70-51, on Saturday.
When I saw [Joe] on me I had a smile, then it was time to get to business. It was weird. The past three years I've been watching him on TV, and just to see him out there was crazy.
"He's got bragging rights for a while," Joe Sr. said, wearing an IU hat and a UK sweatshirt.
"Forever," corrected Sylvia, wearing a UK hat and an IU shirt. "He'll never get this chance again."
She might be right, but not for the reason everyone would have guessed four years ago. Back then, Joe Crawford was the NBA prospect and Jordan Crawford was the little brother who suffered by comparison.
"You'd look at him and say, 'He's not Joe Crawford,'" Joe Sr. said.
He's still not. As 17,000 Indiana fans repeatedly chanted Saturday, "Jor-dan's bet-ter."
Which is a complete flip of the script.
By now, most everyone figured Joe Crawford would be earning huge money in the NBA. Coming out of Detroit Renaissance High School, he was a must-have shooting guard -- a national top-10 recruit in the Class of 2004. Almost all of the top 20 guys from that class are now in The Association, and Crawford had to think he'd never spend four up-and-down years in Lexington.
Jordan? He seemed unlikely to play on this level. While elite-level college ball was supposed to be a stop-over for Joe, it figured to be a step too tall for Jordan.
For the longest time, he was too short, standing just 5-feet-8 as a high school sophomore. When he hit his growth spurt, his GPA went the other way -- it shrank until he was ineligible. Then he broke his ankle five minutes into the opening game of his senior season at Detroit Communications and Media Arts High.
Having grown to 6-4, Jordan finally started to flourish that next summer before playing a fifth year at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy. A guy who appeared headed to Xavier suddenly started drawing interest from higher-profile schools, Indiana included. Assistant coach Jeff Meyer loved him and made phone contact with Sylvia Crawford.
She asked whether Meyer was offering a scholarship. He said no. She didn't see much point in extending the conversation.
Sometime later, Meyer called back and did make the offer. Head coach Kelvin Sampson signed off on it, even though he hadn't seen Crawford play in person because his serial phone fondling forced him off the recruiting trail, per NCAA penalty.
Jordan visited Xavier in late October last year and Indiana one week later. When the family walked into Assembly Hall, the hosts had the lights turned down for dramatic effect.
"They set it up so nice," Sylvia Crawford said. "You could just hear the Indiana legends."
Two weeks later, Indiana had its man. Nobody thought much of it at the time.
Jordan wasn't ranked in anybody's top 10 national recruits. Or top 20. Or top 30. And so on. Eric Gordon was the Gladys Knight of this Indiana recruiting class; Jordan Crawford was just one of the Pips.
After Jordan scored 30 points in an exhibition game, that started to change. When he opened with four straight double-figure scoring games, that changed even more. That was followed by a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules, which ended with this game.
Saturday, with Gordon -- and his 24 points per game average -- on the bench with a deep-tissue bruise between his hip and his back, Crawford and the other backup singers took over.
Post player D.J. White proved you can be a senior and still matter, racking up 16 points and 13 rebounds -- his fifth straight double-double. Athletic left-handed juco transfer Jamarcus Ellis sliced Kentucky for 12 points, five rebounds and five assists. DeAndre Thomas, laughably listed at 295 pounds (try 330, please), bullied his way to 11 points and five boards off the bench.
D.J. White was his typical double-double self against Kentucky. The senior had 16 points and 13 rebounds.
"He had a great week of practice," assistant coach Dan Dakich said of Thomas. "Every day, he was in with us doing extra work. You decide to have a great game when you have a great week of preparation, and he did that."
But the guy who stole the show was the guy who walked out for the opening tip and found his big brother checking him.
"When I saw him on me, I had a smile," Jordan said, "then it was time to get to business. It was weird. The past three years, I've been watching him on TV, and just to see him out there was crazy."
Jordan played 39 minutes and Joe 37, almost all of it spent defending his sibling. On the other end, Sampson changed the matchup, avoiding putting Jordan on Joe.
By halftime, the matchup was a mismatch. Jordan had 12 points to Joe's two, which came on a breakaway layup that he nearly fumbled. The second half was much the same, with most of Joe's points coming well after the outcome was a foregone conclusion.
It had to be a humbling, difficult day for big brother, in the midst of a humbling, difficult season and a humbling, difficult career.
The numbers don't look bad: Earlier this year, Crawford became the 54th 1,000-point scorer in Kentucky's gilded history, and he came into this game averaging 18.3 points per game this season. But the numbers can deceive.
Crawford was part of the celebrated four-man class that basically killed Tubby Smith's tenure at UK. When Smith signed Rajon Rondo, Randolph Morris, Ramel Bradley and Crawford, visions of national titles and Final Fours danced in Big Blue heads.
After a three-year record of 72-31 that included zero SEC tournament titles and zero Final Fours, Smith evacuated for the relative serenity of Minnesota. Crawford and Bradley were left behind to form the core of Billy Gillispie's first team.
And as of now, this team looks rotten to its core.
Kentucky was a wobbly 4-2 while opening with six straight home games, including a shocking loss to Gardner-Webb and a decisive thumping by North Carolina. Now the Cats' first road game was a start-to-finish debacle, resulting in their lowest point total against Indiana since 1941.
There are significant injury issues that explain part of the struggle: guards Jodie Meeks and Derrick Jasper, two of Kentucky's best five players, are out. It did not help that talented freshman Alex Legion fled the program this week and might or might not be returning.
But at bottom, Gillispie appears to have precious little affection for his seniors.
He left Bradley in with four fouls early in the second half, and the point guard fouled out with 13 minutes, 51 seconds left on a silly grab away from the ball. He brought Crawford off the bench in three games this season, trying to get a message through to his most experienced player.
When guard Michael Porter followed Bradley to the bench with five fouls with 10 minutes left, Gillispie stayed crouched on the sideline for a small eternity. The official looked at him, waiting for Gillispie to send someone to the scorer's table. Finally, and seemingly reluctantly, Gillispie turned and waved in Crawford, his only available scholarship guard at that moment.
When asked afterward whether Joe might have played any differently because of the matchup with his brother, Gillispie said, "You would have to ask him about that. As far as his play, it was fairly similar to the way he has played this year."
Given Crawford's line -- 4-of-15 shooting, 1-of-6 from 3-point range, 1-of-3 from the free-throw line -- and ineffective defense, you know how Gillispie feels.
"He's a little confused about what coach really wanted," Joe Crawford Sr. said. "It seemed like the harder he tried, the more coach got on him. It may not be the way Joe likes it, but he's responded.
"Joe's been through a lot. It hasn't been an easy four years. He's pretty thick-skinned. Even this game today, he's going to shake it off."
At least until Christmas. If Jordan and Joe Crawford get together at home in Detroit, little brother might not let big brother hear the end of it.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.