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DuPage captain: Naperville Central's Crawford a player worth watching
By Kevin Schmit | Daily Herald Staff

It's a slam dunk for Drew Crawford of Naperville Central.


Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

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Published: 3/5/2009 5:11 PM | Updated: 3/6/2009 9:48 AM

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The conversation turns emotional as Danny Crawford talks about his only son.

A veteran referee in the National Basketball Association, Crawford's travel demands forced him to miss a good deal of son Drew's high school basketball career at Naperville Central.

It weighs on him.

"It is so tough, and it's hard to put into words," Danny Crawford, a 25-year NBA referee, said. "At this stage of his career, I reflect and I realize how much I've missed. And you can't replace it."

The emotions are understandable - you didn't want to miss a second of this.

From the moment Drew Crawford became a varsity starter for Naperville Central his sophomore year, the impact throttled the program.

His career blossomed as a junior when Crawford led the Redhawks to a share of the DuPage Valley Conference title. This senior season his talents reached a level few high school athletes attain.

Well before the season began, everyone knew Crawford was the area's top player. All he did was prove it game after game.

One of the state's elite players on the court, and a true gentlemen off it, Naperville Central's Drew Crawford is the 2008-09 Daily Herald DuPage All-Area Basketball Captain.

"The last few years have been a great experience for me," he said. "It's been an incredible journey."

The 6-foot-5 guard-forward led the area by averaging 24 points per game on 53 percent shooting from the field and 76 percent shooting on his 250 free throws. Crawford rates among area leaders with 8.7 rebounds and averaged 2 blocks, 3 assists and 2 steals.

Crawford became the program's all-time scoring leader, eclipsing 1999 All-Area Captain Tim Szatko's mark of 1,466 points. Entering Friday's regional final Crawford stands at 1,510 points.

He led the Redhawks to consecutive DVC titles and is a two-time player of the year in the league. Crawford, committed to play at Northwestern, is sure to be highly regarded in the postseason all-state lists.

"He's unbelievably valuable to his team," said Wheaton Warrenville South coach Mike Healy. "He's got a great attitude, and you can see his teammates respect him. He's just tremendous."

But for all the individual accomplishments, Crawford's senior season sums up best when considering what he did for those around him. His team - his teammates - soared because of Crawford.

"No matter how good a player is, he's not going to be successful without a good team around him," he said. "My teammates have always been so great."

Those teammates feel the same about him.

"Great teammate," said Redhawks senior David Mallett. "It's going to be great to look back and say I played with someone like that. He makes his teammates better, and we make him better."

Love of the game

It's easy to see where Crawford's basketball desire began.

His father's career exposed Drew to the game's highest level. Through the years the Crawfords - including Claudia, Drew's mother, and his sister, Lia - have embarked upon trips throughout the nation, together and individually, to see Danny Crawford ref some of the NBA's most memorable matchups.

"Just being around it - the atmosphere, the players," Drew said. "Being exposed to it developed my love of the game. It made me want to play even more."

It allowed Drew amazing access to the players. LeBron James and Reggie Miller immediately pop into his head in terms of memories, but so many others have flowed through the years.

The shy kid who coyly asked for autographs soon grew to the young man who shot hoops with James the summer before James made his leap from high school to the NBA.

But for all the thrills, life as an NBA referee takes a toll.

Danny Crawford spends huge chunks of time on the road, but he estimates he's somehow been able to attend about 60 percent of his son's Naperville Central games.

"I miss out on a lot, but it's always nice to come back home," Danny Crawford said. "Being around basketball my whole life, I've seen the world's greatest athletes. I have the best job in the world. The only negative is the travel."

Sometimes he's only home for a matter of hours, but the time is precious.

"He works real hard at his job and he works really hard to be at my games," Drew said. "He loves that I'm doing well, but he hates missing games.

"I appreciate everything he and my family do for me," he said. "My family gives me all the support I need."

The leap

Like most elite athletes, Drew Crawford grew up as the best player on just about every team he played on.

Starting in sixth grade he focused solely on basketball, and his rise accelerated from there. By eighth grade and his freshman year, Crawford already looked like a varsity basketball player.

Sophomore year was a varsity learning experience when he averaged nearly 14 points. Adding strength and quickness, he earned All-Area honors as a junior and averaged 17 points and 6 rebounds.

In the off-season leading up to his senior year, everything came together. His height remained stable at about 6-5, but he's added 10 pounds of muscle in the past year.

"From the kid I played against freshman and sophomore year up to now, he's so much better," said Downers Grove South All-Area senior guard Malcolm Herron. "He's definitely one of the toughest guys I've ever defended."

Playing for the Illinois Warriors club team, Crawford's college stock skyrocketed. Summer showcase and tournament performances led to numerous Division I offers.

By the end of the summer, Crawford weighed about 35 offers ranging from Wake Forest and Oklahoma State to closer options such as Northwestern. In September he made his choice.

"I picked Northwestern for many reasons," said Crawford, who holds a 4.2 grade-point average on a 4-point scale and scored a 31 on the ACT. "I've always wanted to play in the Big Ten, and you can't argue with the academics."

The next step

Comparisons to former Naperville Central standout Anthony Parker - the 1993 All-Area Captain, a star at Bradley and a current player for the Toronto Raptors - are only natural.

"They both do everything so well," said former Naperville Central head coach and current assistant Bob Sterr. "They've both got size, they jump like crazy, they both handle the ball and shoot, they both know the game. And they're both such good kids. You'll never hear a bad word from Drew. He's got all the tools and ability and attitude."

So far down the road, though, it's hard to envision a similar path to the NBA.

"It's always been a dream of mine, but it's such a long shot," he said. "I'm willing to put in the work, but whatever happens, happens."

The leap Crawford made in the last year has been staggering. His shooting and ballhandling will fit in well at Northwestern, as will his ability to go to the hoop strong and finish - his nearly 10 free throws per game this season prove he knows how to get his points. Quickness, a long wing span and desire allow him to thrive on the boards and on defense.

Ultimately, it's his love and understanding of the game that make Crawford's potential so exciting.

"You can defend him any way you can or send two or three guys at him," said Redhawks coach Pete Kramer. "You can't stop him. He's going to get his points somehow or another because he's that good."

The Crawfords don't talk much about Drew's potential beyond Northwestern, but it's in the back of the mind. A dream exists that father and son may be in the NBA together before Danny retires.

"Drew's never talked about playing in the NBA, but he's got the body for it, he's got the shot," Danny Crawford said. "There's a whole different speed and strength at the next level that he'd have to attain, but he's shown me that he'd be able to catch up to it."

Crawford's tight-knit family will be nearby to watch it unfold - and dad aims to increase his 60 percent attendance rate at games.

Like every second up to now, you won't want to miss a second of what's to come.

"There's so much in my life that I'm grateful for, and my family is definitely a big part of that," Drew Crawford said. "It's exciting to think about what's ahead."