Gone is his exaggerated crossover dribble. So are the wild fade-away jumpers, unnecessary reach-in fouls and ill-advised, out-of-control drives into the paint.
The Sean Crawford that starred for Cardozo last season, leading them to another undefeated Queens season as their top scorer, is gone.
Now starting for top-ranked Notre Dame Prep, a team that includes top-five player Mike Beasley, headed to Kansas State, and fellow highly-rated city players Jamine Peterson and Thomas Manzano, he has become a prototypical point guard who cares more about evenly distributing the ball to his immensely talented teammates than lighting up the scoreboard himself.
Meet the new Sean Crawford. He still smiles broadly, speaks softly, and is team first. But his skills and drive on the court are completely different. He seems relieved by his basketball makeover.
“It’s easy for me now,” says the quick-as-a-whip 5-foot-8 guard after scoring five points and dishing out 11 assists in a 105-82 win over Laurinburg Prep in the Big Apple Basketball Invitational at Hunter College.
It has been a long and winding road for the Laurelton native. He was a highly-touted ninth grader upon entering Holy Cross, enjoying a solid freshman season. Unfortunately, personal issues caused him to stop playing the sport for a while, and he transferred to Cardozo during his sophomore year. Initially academic struggles bedeviled him there, making him ineligible as a junior. He finally got his grades straight for his senior year and enjoyed success last winter, showing signs of talent and skill but was still very raw, often turning the ball over and getting into foul trouble.
“Even though he looked like a talented senior,” Cardozo Coach Ron Naclerio said, “he was a basically a freshman out there in terms of experience level, being in tough situations.”
When the season ended, at the urging of Naclerio, he enrolled at Notre Dame Prep, a boarding school in Fitchburg, Massachusetts known for producing Division I athletes. When he first got there last August, Crawford was questioning the decision. He found himself in a new environment, one that solely focuses on basketball and schoolwork.
Without a break besides lunch, Crawford goes to school Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., then it’s off to practice and/or a game, followed by hours of homework. Once every few weeks he can catch a movie - a far cry from the exciting social options New York City can offer.
His basketball life didn’t get off to a good start either. Crawford immediately butted heads with his demanding new coach, Bill Barton. He had to run 2.5 miles just to make the team, and even then, after running a qualifying time of 15:00 minutes, Barton made him finish in 14:00 flat.
Furthermore, Crawford’s streetball style wasn’t what Barton looked for in his lead guard. “I told him he’s the 16th man out of 15 until he starts playing my way,” Barton recalled. He would get on Crawford about everything - “anything, class, practice, oh, I didn’t square my feet on this shot, I’m slacking on my running,” Crawford thought back.
He wanted to leave Notre Dame Prep at the time. Eventually, though, he realized that would be taking the easy way out. “It took a lot to get used to,” he admits. “But you got to grow up sometime.”
That is all in the past now. Crawford has gone through a reformation under Barton, who praised his hard work and academics, once a shortcoming but now one of his strengths. (Crawford proudly stated his average is up to 86.5.)
Having reclassified, meaning he is now in the class of ‘08, Crawford isn’t even concerned about college. He expects to play somewhere, but right now he’s focusing on the next year and a half in Fitchburg. If he continues to improve, his coach has no doubts about his prized pupil. Sonny Vaccaro, Reebok’s senior director of grassroots basketball, raved about the kid to Coach Barton after the win over Laurinburg Prep.
“Sure-fire Division I player,” the coach says. “No ambiguity about it in my mind. I’ll get three guys to start fighting over him.”
To Crawford, the change - from his game, to lifestyle, to overall mentality in school - hasn’t come easy. His stat-line is as different from a season ago as it could get.
“I’m just now getting used to it, being a pure point guard instead of a scoring point guard,” he says. “It’s hard, because I’m used to shooting the ball, taking 18, 20 shots a night. But on the next level, nobody wants a 5-10 two guard. I like playing the one.”
The coach has noticed. “He’s being more of a distributor and a point guard,” Barton says. “I think he’s a point guard, I really do. The kid comes everyday and busts his butt. He tries to get better ever day. He’s very raw, but he has the ability.”