He's the second best scorer in Northwestern history; he was on two 20-win teams, and brought Northwestern within whiskers of the NCAA Tournament; and he's just an all around great guy... Drew Crawford's legacy will linger in Evanston for a while. If you're a Northwestern fan, it's pretty tough to not love Crawford, a guy who gave so much to the program, and then even when he could have left prior to his final year of eligibility, decided he wanted to give even more.
We thought it would be nice to catch up with Crawford, who's been a busy man since that emotional Friday night in Indianapolis last year at the Big Ten Tournament.
Following the conclusion of his Northwestern career, Crawford went through 12 different pre-draft workouts for NBA teams, went undrafted, played in the Las Vegas NBA Summer League with the New Orleans Pelicans, got into training camp with the Orlando Magic, and played his first season of professional basketball with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Developmental League.
And what's more, he was pretty darn good. Crawford averaged 16 points per game on 48.1 percent shooting, 6.1 rebounds, and played 33.7 minutes per game, more than all but one other player on the BayHawks' roster.
I asked Crawford a lot of questions. Here, in part one of our conversation, he tells of how he was 24 hours away from signing a contract to play in Israel, of the pressure of Summer League and NBA training camps, of his adjustment to being a professional, and of flight cancellations and bus rides in the wee hours of the morning -- such is the life of a D-League player:
Henry Bushnell: One of the weird things for me about college basketball is that every player's career, no matter how good the player is, ends in a loss. It's all so abrupt. What was that like for you, what were your emotions after the Michigan State loss, and in the next few days realizing it was all over?
Drew Crawford: Yeah, it's tough, especially when you build so many relationships — in my case, in the five years that I was at Northwestern — and you know that your time playing basketball there is coming to a close. It's kind of just a rush of emotion. And even though I only played for coach Collins for one year, just the relationship that I built with him, and knowing that was probably the last time I was every going to be able to play for him, it was just difficult. But I look back at a lot of happy memories. It was difficult to walk off that court, but I was happy to say that I gave it my all and built a lot of great relationships.
HB: Even before your college career ended, you had definitely decided you wanted to pursue a pro career in basketball, right?
DC: Yeah, I did. I'm not sure, I guess going into college that was always the goal. I wanted to get a Northwestern degree, and have something to fall back on, but I always wanted to play professional basketball, that was my dream as a kid... Of course, I had a fallback. I've always been interested in finance as well, so studying economics and getting that degree at Northwestern... my parents always pushed academics my whole life, so I wanted to make sure I got my degree to be set for after basketball as well.
HB: Was the decision to stay here instead of go overseas a difficult one for you?
DC: It was difficult at first. Some training camp offers have partial guarantees where they'll give you some money, and others won't. And I was actually close to going over to Israel and playing over there, but I got the offer from the Orlando Magic the day before I was going to sign for the Israel team. And Orlando offered me that partial guarantee, so they made it worthwhile for me, financially, to stay here and give it a shot in the NBA and in the D-League. And plus, that's always been my dream, to play in the NBA, so if I could stay here and make some money, it was the best of both worlds.
HB: Is it definitely easier to get to the NBA by going through the training camp/D-League route than by going overseas?
DC: Yeah, I think so. Especially in my specific situation. That was the best way for me to get the exposure, and to stay on the radar for NBA teams. Once you sort of establish yourself as a professional player — and I think I did that in the D-League this past year — now I think I can go overseas and still come back and hope to make the NBA each summer.
HB: On the other side, what was tempting about going overseas? What were the pros of it?
DC: One, just experiencing something new. Playing in Israel, the team I would have played for was close to Tel Aviv, and I've heard it's a beautiful city. So just doing something new, traveling, experiencing a new place in the world that I've never been to. And then two, just advancing my basketball career — to continue to play great, and to see how far I can take my career.
HB: So is it something you would consider going forward, if you don't get a shot in the NBA?
DC: Yeah, I think so, definitely. Those opportunities are still there for me, so if I don't make the NBA, an overseas career is definitely something that I'll pursue.
HB: Your first summer league experience with the Pelicans, what was that like in general?
DC: It was a good experience. I would say, more than anything, I really learned a lot. Playing in practice with some great players and a great coaching staff in New Orleans, I learned a lot about the professional system and how things worked. And then playing in the actual games, it went pretty well. It's kind of tough in the Summer League setting to establish yourself and get consistent minutes, because you have so many guys on the team who are capable of playing. So it was a good experience, and I think having that last year will really help me in the Summer League this year, because I kind of know what to expect, I know what mindset to go into it with.
HB: You say you learned a lot... was there anything that surprised you?
DC: Yeah. One thing that's huge about pursuing the NBA or being in the NBA is just the level of professionalism. Just being on time, that's emphasized so much. And not even being on time, being really early to things. Our bus to training camp was always hours before practice even started, because everybody was there, everyone ate breakfast every day at a certain time. You were ready to go, you were on the court at a specific time. So really emphasizing that professionalism is something I kind of expected, but there was really a strong level of that, especially with the Pelicans franchise.
HB: Did you feel a lot of pressure during that time, being surrounded by guys who have the same goal as you, and there are only so many spots?
DC: Yeah, it is kind of a pressure situation. Because every time, every game, you want to do your best. And it's a situation where you want to show your offensive talents, but you don't want to be out there hogging the ball, trying to make yourself look like you're just an individual player. It's kind of a balance. And it was difficult for me in my first Summer League year to establish myself. So I'm excited for this summer coming up, because I think it's going to be a good one.
[Crawford said he will most likely play Summer League with the Magic in 2015]
HB: When you were in training camp with the Magic, did you ever feel that you were close to making the NBA roster?
DC: So they invited four guys for training camp that weren't signed for the rest of the year. That was me, Kadeem Batts, Peyton Siva and Seth Curry. Going into it, they were pretty clear with us that most likely, we'd be playing with their D-League team this past season. So for the most part we knew that we'd be playing in Erie. But we were able to get that experience of being in an NBA training camp and building some equity with the Magic.
HB: So what's it like to be a D-League player?
DC: Man, it's a unique experience. I don't think a lot of people see what goes on behind the scenes, in between games in the D-League. First off, the exposure is good, and the talent level is good. That's something that a lot of people don't see, the talent level in the D-League. Every night, you're guarding somebody who's a very capable scorer, and it makes it difficult. So that was fun.
But going in between games, the travel is difficult. For instance, one time, we played on a Friday night in Santa Cruz, and we jumped on the bus after the game and drove seven hours to Reno, Nevada. I think we got in at 4 a.m. Guys like me, I don't really sleep on the bus much, so I'm just going to sleep at 4 a.m., and then we play that day at 5 p.m. in Reno. So it's things like that go on behind the scenes. The D-League travel can be really difficult. But it was a learning experience, and it helped me build a lot of character, and I wouldn't take it back.
HB: As far as the life of a D-League player off the court, is the travel the most difficult part?
DC: Yeah, definitely. A lot of connecting flights, and this year we just seemed to have some bad luck. We had a lot of cancelled flights, a lot of bad weather, and what should be a four hour plane trip would turn into two bus rides and then two flights. So we had some bad luck with that, and the travel can get difficult especially when you've got to lace them up and be ready to go on the court the next day... or even the same day.
Tomorrow, we'll release part two of this conversation, in which Crawford talks about teammates Seth Curry and Peyton Siva, tells us how close he thinks he is to realizing his NBA dream, remembers to text Chris Collins on his birthday, and 'answers' the pressing question of which team was better, his final NU squad or this past year's team.