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Loyalty paying dividends for Wildcats’ Crawford

Northwestern guard Drew Crawford (left) could have gone anywhere to play his final season of college basketball. Instead, the graduate student stayed at Northwestern, and his play has picked up in recent weeks.
Northwestern guard Drew Crawford (left) could have gone anywhere to play his final season of college basketball. Instead, the graduate student stayed at Northwestern, and his play has picked up in recent weeks.

His Twitter handle is @TheRealDrewski1, and it's fitting.

Northwestern fans finally are getting the real Drew Crawford, the All-Big Ten-caliber player, not the guy who shot 1-for-8 against Michigan State with four turnovers.

"I should have been doing this a lot earlier in the season," he lamented.

At least it's happening now.

Four weeks ago, it looked like Crawford had made one colossally foolish decision. Rather than transfer to a program with Sweet 16 potential – not to mention warm weather – he opted to remain in graduate school for his fifth season in Evanston.

Not only had the Wildcats been blown out by their first three Big Ten opponents, but Crawford barely resembled the guy Michigan State coach Tom Izzo praised as "what this conference stands for."

He had become caught between two subway cars – Bill Carmody's Princeton offense and Chris Collins' motion-style attack. Or so went the theory.

His performance against Michigan State on Jan. 15 – five misses to start the game, including an air ball, and zero assists in 39 minutes – brought it to a head.

"He did some soul-searching after that," said Drew's father, Danny. "He was in deep thought."

Danny is one of the game's most respected referees, a 29-year NBA veteran who was the lead official in Game 7 of last year's NBA Finals.

He prefers to sit far from the floor at Drew's games, lest he become "too involved."

"In high school [Naperville Central], I'd be coaching from the stands," Danny said. "Drew finally had to tell me, 'Please shut up.' "

Drew laughs at the memory. He seems too polite to have ever uttered those words.

"He'd say: 'Get to the rim! Be aggressive! Stroke it with confidence!' " Drew recalled. "I told him: 'I know what I need to do. I've got a coach on the sideline. It's good to hear your input, but I'd like to focus on the game.' "

To hear Danny tell it, Drew snapped out of his funk with no help from the old man.

"He just figured it out," Danny said. "He looked through a lot of tape, and the tape doesn't lie."

Drew said he noticed he was getting stripped of the ball frequently on drives to the basket.

"So I needed to protect the ball, get into the lane and kick it out when the defense collapses," he said.

Crawford is averaging 20.6 points and 6.6 rebounds over his last five games, four of which were victories.

He was the main man in NU's shocking sweep of Wisconsin and Minnesota, scoring 30 in Madison and 17 in Minneapolis while shooting 66.7 percent from the field. Those performances earned him the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week award, as selected by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.

"Unquestionably, it's his team," Collins said. "Everyone looks to him for strength and confidence. He'd be first to tell you that his biggest jump has been in leadership – both by example and vocally.

"He has been really good with the guys, confronting them when they've needed that and putting an arm around them when they've needed that. It doesn't come naturally for him to be that way, but it has helped him become better as a player."

How so?

"If he is going to demand that his teammates play defense and practice hard and take care of themselves – all the things that go into being good – then he has to do it or else guys will see through that," Collins said.

Danny could not agree more, saying, "If Michael [Jordan] was practicing hard, do you think Scottie [Pippen] and Horace [Grant] would lie around?"

After Northwestern hired Collins in March, Drew waited about 3 weeks to announce he would return. During that time, Danny said, more than 10 schools contacted Danny to inquire about a transfer, including Missouri, Marquette and one Big Ten school.

"He laughed when I told him that one," Danny said. "He said, 'Are you kidding me?' Drew hates that school so much."

Danny said he would have been tempted at least to take a campus visit, but Drew declined.

"He went with his gut," Danny said. "Drew's a loyal guy and he loves his teammates.

"It's a huge thing to experience the [NCAA] tournament, but Drew said something that knocked me to the floor: 'I want to try to do it with the Cats.' That tells you where his heart is. His goal, to this day, is to get them to the tournament."

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