After a tremendous freshman season, sophomore Drew Crawford will look to build on his success and help lead the Wildcats to their first ever NCAA tournament. Crawford, who started in all 34 games for the ‘Cats last season and averaged 10.0 points per game, garnered Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. The Naperville native has captured the attention of the Big Ten and could be a legitimate NBA prospect. North by Northwestern spoke with Crawford about his performance last season, expectations for NU, and the transition to college basketball.
You were named Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season, the first player in NU history to receive that award. What did it mean to you?
That was a big honor for me. One thing I really wanted in a school during the recruiting process was to go somewhere where I’d be able to contribute and help out my team right away. I saw that in Northwestern. I didn’t expect it to go as well as it did, so it was a huge honor for me and I was really excited to win that award.
What stood out to you the most about college basketball and playing in the Big Ten?
The biggest difference between playing in high school and playing in college, specifically in the Big Ten, is the size of the people I’m playing against. In high school, I felt like I was playing against my peers, while in college it feels like I’m playing against grown men. It’s a big difference in size and strength, because there are just some huge guys in the conference. I wasn’t as strong as I would’ve liked to have been last year, so I got tossed around a little bit. I worked on getting stronger in the off-season and trying to adjust to the strength of the game.
What was the most surreal moment of your freshman season?
My most surreal moment was probably when we beat Purdue at home. It was a tight game down the stretch, the intensity in the building was incredible, and it was just an unbelievable feeling when the fans stormed the court after we won. Playing with the type of support we had around us was a really exciting feeling.
What are you looking to improve on this season?
This past summer, my focus was really on ball handling and not only being able to shoot the ball, but the ability to bring the ball up the court and deal with pressure. I want to become more confident with my dribbling be better at taking care of the basketball. In the preseason, we had a strong team focus on defense, and it’s something that I need to work on individually as well with the assistant coaches and by watching tape.
Does being a son of an NBA referee give you a unique perspective on the game?
I can see the game through what all of my dad has told me about his job. I’ve kind of seen how NBA refs think and what their job entails. It gives me a greater appreciation for what my dad and his coworkers do. It’s an extremely hard job and the scrutiny is unbelievable. It also helps when my dad gives me a few pointers about little tricks here and there that you can do to help sway referees and make something look like it’s happening when it’s really not, and vice versa.
Which teammates have the biggest influence on you?
I’d say it’s mainly our captains, Jeff Ryan and Michael “Juice” Thompson. I look up to both of them, on and off the court. They’re two of the hardest workers on the team, always have the team’s interest in mind, and I really admire the way they take the leadership position and use that to demand a lot from us. At the same time, they understand what the team is going through and serve as a kind of middleman between the coaches and the players. They keep things organized, really support us, help us through tough moments and really motivate us as well.
A lot of people around basketball think you have a legitimate shot of eventually taking a leap into the NBA. What are your feelings about the prospect of playing as a professional?
It’s always something that’s in the back of my head because it’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid. I don’t really think about it too much because it’s not something I necessarily need to be thinking about at this point. I’m focusing on what’s happening now, what’s going on with the season, our team winning games, and our team making the tournament. The NBA is something that is part of the future. There’s a possibility of it coming if I succeed now and if I succeed in what I’m doing right now. I focus on how I can improve myself in practices and games now to possibly make that step.
What’s the biggest challenge the team has to overcome this year in order to make the NCAA tournament for the very first time?
The biggest challenge is winning on the road. Last year, we really struggled with that in Big Ten play. We only had one conference road win. It’s something we really need to improve on. We have to stay composed both offensively and defensively, even when we’re in a hostile environment. When the crowd is rooting against us, we have to be able to maintain our composure and win on the road.