Hoyas' Crawford Toughs It Out

"The way Tyler plays, it's like a wrestling match sometimes," Georgetown's Jonathan Wallace said of teammate Tyler Crawford, right. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 16, 2006

Whenever Jonathan Wallace returns to his apartment bruised or scratched up following a Georgetown basketball practice, he knows exactly who to blame: his roommate and teammate, Tyler Crawford.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Crawford makes a point of guarding Wallace whenever the team scrimmages. He tells Wallace he will be the toughest defender Wallace will face all season, and then he proceeds to hack and bump and generally harass the three-year starter at guard. But what else would you expect from a physical player whose nickname is "Bam-Bam"?

"The way Tyler plays, it's like a wrestling match sometimes," Wallace said. "But he tries to make you see things in practice that you're not going to see in the game, so when it comes to game time, it won't be as tough. He takes a lot of pride in making sure every individual on this team in every area is ready to play."

Eight Hoyas average more than Crawford's 11.4 minutes per game, and seven average more than his 3.2 points. But Crawford is the player Coach John Thompson III repeatedly calls "the heart and soul of the team."

"It's natural just to focus on and think about the guys that are playing significant minutes or are scoring points," said Thompson, whose Hoyas (6-3) host Winston-Salem State (1-12) tonight at McDonough Arena. "But so much more of our success is the composition of the team, the blending and meshing of personalities. . . . Take whatever the percentage of game time is out of the equation, and in many ways Tyler is the focal point of the other 98 percent of the things that we do."

His teammates marvel at his intensity -- whether it's going full speed during the game day walk-through or the way he charges after every errant shot -- and his passion for the game. Thompson prefers to highlight more subtle things. The coach knows, for instance, that if Crawford is asked to spend 15 minutes dribbling to his right and pulling up for jump shots at practice, then that is what Crawford will do. And if DaJuan Summers is told to do the same thing, then Crawford will make sure the freshman is doing it the right way, with the proper footwork and technique.

"He makes everybody play their hardest," said junior forward Jeff Green, who is a team co-captain alongside Crawford. "He's like that dad that's always telling what you should do, what you can do to make this or that better. He's always trying to help you out. That's what sets him apart. He's not always about himself."

Added Wallace, "You have to respect a guy who brings it every single day, in season or out of season, and always has a positive attitude."

Crawford always has had that mind-set, even when he was a star at Robert E. Lee High in Staunton, Va. He was an explosive scorer who had one of his dunks characterized as "LeBronesque" by the local newspaper, and he finished his career with a state title and more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. He carried a basketball everywhere he went, so he could duck into the gym and shoot baskets in between classes.

"I've had some outstanding players over the years, and Tyler's right there at the top," said Paul Hatcher, who has won more than 800 games in 39 seasons as coach of the Leemen. "He was the most likable kid in the school. He always had a smile, and I don't think I've ever had a player that worked any harder."

Or was more aggressive. As a high school senior, Crawford fouled out of a benefit game before halftime. Said Hatcher: "He plays so hard that he doesn't realize that he's fouling folks. He just gets so hung up on trying to do what's right."

That competitiveness comes from his father, Crawford said. The toughness comes from his mother, a former corrections facility lieutenant who, according to family legend, helped chase down a fugitive while pregnant with Tyler. And it's no surprise he always wanted to go to Georgetown: "I like to roughhouse, and that's what they did here," Crawford said.

Crawford averaged only six minutes per game during his first two years with the Hoyas. He started the season opener against Hartford; walking onto the floor alongside fellow juniors Green, Wallace and Roy Hibbert -- who enrolled at Georgetown at the same time and quickly became inseparable friends -- was one of the most special moments of his career, he said. He had eight points and a team-high nine rebounds in 20 minutes.

But then he came down with a nasty case of strep throat that caused him to be hospitalized and miss four games. His teammates kept in touch with phone calls and text messages, though Green admitted that he didn't call Crawford after the loss to Old Dominion, because he knew Crawford would be mad. His absence affected the team, according to Thompson.

What bothered Crawford the most wasn't the fact that he couldn't play; it was that he wasn't even allowed to be near the team. Said Crawford, "Even if you can't play, just being there, being a teammate, you should be able to motivate your team."

Crawford is back now, yelling encouragement from the sidelines and leaping for rebounds on the court.

"You do the kid a disservice if you just focus on the Bam-Bam, the 100 percent, the rah-rah-rah -- all of which he does give our team," Thompson said. "What is important is his caring -- his absolute caring about his teammates, his absolute caring about our program, his 100 percent caring about what we're trying to accomplish. It's the effort he gives every day, his attention to detail, his selflessness."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company