As we continue with our look at the current UK players through the time they have impinged upon our consciousness, Joe Crawford is next in line. Senior and classmate of Ramel Bradley, who we looked at a couple of days ago, Joe has had an interesting and eventful time at UK as he begins his forth and final campaign. Today, we'll examine Joe as he was, as he is, and hopefully, as he is yet to be.
Unlike Ramel Bradley, Joe Crawford did not have a simple and straightforward recruitment, nor an uncomplicated early career. Even as early as 2002, Crawford was noted as streaky, and had a reputation as an uber-athletic scorer rather than a pure shooter. Always possessed of a fundamentally sound but inconsistent jumper, Crawford impressed scouts with his powerful drives to the basket and his vertical leap. Crawford was heavily recruited by Tommy Amaker at the University of Michigan, and early in 2003, committed to be a Wolverine. Amaker was said to be surprised that Crawford committed so early, and as it turned out, that proved to be a harbinger of future events that would mark the beginning of serious doubts about Amaker at UM.
It so happened that after the 2003 AAU season in which Crawford was outstanding, Joe began rethinking his commitment to Michigan. It is clear that back in the spring when he was ranked a 4-star up and comer, he was pretty happy with his choice. But apparently, Joe began reading his press clippings and noted his rising rankings. Suddenly, he reneged on his commitment to Amaker and declared himself "wide open" again. Crawford started mentioning schools like North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky and Missouri. He seemed to think of himself as a game-changing player, and that Michigan didn't offer enough exposure for him.
In the early fall, Kentucky began to appear as a leader for Joe along with Michigan, in whom Crawford claimed to still be interested. But after Crawford showed up for Big Blue Madness, rumors began circulating that Kentucky had become the favorite. The day after Rajon Rondo announced his commitment to Kentucky on January 26th, Crawford announced he, too, would become a Wildcat.
Interestingly, Crawford was soft-spoken almost to the point of shyness during most of his recruitment. Many scouts remarked early that he should demand the ball more, and that he tended to get lost at times. Even now, we see remnants of this tendency at Kentucky. But it was his first 3 months as a Wildcat that would dramatically reshape his life, his career at Kentucky, and his place in the minds of the fans.
After playing only seven minutes combined against South Carolina and Kansas in early in 2005, Crawford informed Tubby Smith of his decision to transfer from Kentucky. Smith was understandably very unhappy with Crawford's decision, and told him so in no uncertain terms. But Crawford, it seemed, was adamant.
Complicating this situation was Kentucky's unwillingness to waive the provisions of the National Letter of Intent that Crawford signed with Kentucky, which would have forced him to not only serve a year in residence before joining the team to which he planned to transfer (allegedly Michigan State University), but also sacrifice a year of eligibility as a penalty for breaking his LOI. That would have made Crawford eligible for only for a total of 3 semesters in college. All Crawford had to do to retain two full years of eligibility was to wait out the end of the season, on the team or not, to satisfy the conditions of his LOI.
Clearly, leaving mid-season made no sense to anyone given the situation. Crawford asked Tubby Smith for permission to rejoin the team, which Smith granted, but held Crawford out of three games and played him for more than 10 minutes per game only seven more times that season out of the 19 remaining games. Many Kentucky fans expected Crawford to transfer at the end of the season. History will record that Crawford did not do so, and remained a Wildcat.
Crawford steadily improved his playing time and statistics over his sophomore year, and even though knee problems derailed him early in 2005-2006, he continued to earn more and more playing time, and at the end of his sophomore year, Crawford was averaging 10+ points and almost 4 rebounds in 23+ minutes per game.
Last year, Joe continued to improve his game, increasing his statistics in every category, both offensively and defensively. Unfortunately, one statistic that stood out last year was his turnovers, which were up to 2 per game from 1 his previous year. Crawford had 7 turnovers in one game against North Carolina, and 5 against Auburn. But Crawford went on a scoring tear during the SEC season, playing perhaps his best basketball as a Wildcat.
Joe also improved his defense, although quicker two guards give him some trouble at that spot. Still, Crawford has worked on his weaknesses and continues to improve defensively, which, like most younger players, was lacking in both skill and determination.
Inconsistency returned at the end of the season, but 2006-2007 represents a season in which Crawford should have learned a lot about himself, what he can do for the team, and holds the promise of bigger things to come.
So what can we expect for the future? Well, we first have to deal with injury -- its been said that Crawford is suffering from some kind of knee problems, although we know neither the extent nor the expected impact on his season. But assuming the injury is minor, Joe Crawford is well positioned to have an All-SEC season at Kentucky. Along with fellow senior Ramel Bradley, Crawford will be expected to lead this team back to glory from a relatively ignominious season last year.
Many Kentucky fans have had mixed feelings about Crawford due to his attempt to transfer. Some fans blame Crawford, some blame Tubby Smith, but almost all agree that having Crawford is far better than not having him.
For some reason, many Kentucky fans expected more from Crawford than he has delivered, and perhaps justifiably so. But Crawford has been a nice player at Kentucky, and the thing most responsible for holding Joe back lies between his ears. Joe badly wants to succeed and reach his dreams, but so far has been unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve them. Perhaps the prospect of one final and irrevocable chance will provide the motivation that has so far been missing.