It was a cool spring day in northern Ohio and Jordon Crawford had just walked off of the court for the last time in his college career. While he had emerged over the last couple of years as the leader of the team, the fact that he stood just 5’6 raised questions of if his basketball career could continue.
He may not have known where he was going, but Crawford wasn’t new to these kinds of challenges or this level of uncertainty. Throughout his career he had faced obstacles and detractors at every step of the way, so this was something that he knew he could overcome.
It all began when Crawford was three years old, when his father, a talented basketball player in his own right, brought him on to a team that he was coaching. As Crawford tells Ridiculous Upside, playing basketball is something that he always felt he was meant to do. "I think I was born into it, my dad is a big fan of basketball and I always had a ball in my hands when I was younger. When I was three, my dad got me started in a league and he actually coached my team," Crawford told RidiculousUpside.com.
Over the course of his childhood, Crawford and his family moved a number of times. As expected with anyone in his or her formative years it was a tough transition each time, but the one constant was that he was able to play the game that he loved. "I think the biggest challenges I faced growing up was going to a few different schools with different crowds, public to private was a big adjustment but playing basketball usually helped," he said.
While he found comfort in the game of basketball, it wasn’t always easy. Crawford has been undersized at most of the levels that he has played at and while he has adjusted to any heckling that is thrown at him these days, it wasn’t always that way.
"Being so small and always hearing that from fans and other teams didn’t normally affect me, but at some point, you do think about it when things aren’t going that well for you," the guard explained. "You have to find a way to overcome that and I think when I was younger it impacted me, but it doesn’t have that effect anymore."
When Crawford attended basketball tryouts as a freshman at La Salle High School in Cincinnati, his size limited the expectations that those around him had for him. Despite this, varsity head coach Dan Fleming, who has spent over twenty years as head coach at La Salle, saw something in Crawford that stood out to him.
"He was always a pretty good player, even when he was a freshman. He was never tall, but he was always very quick and could handle the ball. People always brought up his size and its disadvantages, but we tried to talk about his size as an advantage and I think he really took that and ran with it," Fleming told when speaking to Ridiculous Upside.
With a coach that knew how to utilize him to the best of his potential, Crawford flourished. It was during his senior year that he took a step into a leadership role, which ended up impacting the program for years to come. "He was definitely a leader here. During his senior year, he had one other senior with him and we started three sophomores with them. Him and the other senior ended up making that a great season and the impact that Jordon had lasted a few years, as those three sophomores became leaders on the team for the next two years," he noted.
The other senior, forward Danny McElroy, had committed to Division I Bowling Green State University, while Crawford had committed to Division II Ashland University. Fleming knew that Crawford had the talent to play on the same level as his teammate, but he just needed the opportunity. That chance came unexpectedly, as Ashland’s head coach left the program, which caused Crawford to open up his recruiting. With Bowling Green often coming to La Salle’s game to watch McElroy, Fleming knew that this would be the opportunity for Crawford to shine.
"It was all just about him getting a chance. Bowling Green kept coming to watch Danny play, but I kept pushing for Jordon and making sure that they knew he was the best player on our team. It eventually worked out for him and I was glad that he was going to get that opportunity," Coach said.
When he arrived on campus at Bowling Green, Crawford was a big fan of the atmosphere. He was glad that he had the opportunity to join a Division I team, but his expectations were low. "To be honest, I really felt that going into college I was going to be on the bench for four years and then get my education and go on," the guard asserted. I was sitting there my freshman year and my name got called and I was shocked and truly a bit nervous," Crawford added.
Despite his low expectations and initial nervousness, his assistant coach Dennis Hopson, the third overall pick in the 1987 NBA Draft, realized the potential that he had. "His toughness was what I really liked about him right away. He’s small in stature but had a real big heart. He’s a competitor; he used to go at the older guys in practice daily. Whatever the other guys may have had physically, he made up for with his toughness and willingness to compete," Hopson said.
He didn’t expect much out of college career when he first entered Bowling Green, but his determination carried him to a successful stay at the Division I level. He managed to place in the top five in scoring on the team throughout the last three years of his career. Despite his personal success, the team failed to win more than 16 games at any point over his four years with the program. It was after a loss to Miami (OH) in the conference tournament that he found his career at a crossroads. Sitting outside of the Quicken Loans Arena with a light rain falling down, Crawford knew that he couldn’t abandon the game that he had loved for so long.
"I felt that I wanted to play, but I didn’t know where. I was lost going into the whole professional thing as far as what to expect and what was next. I didn’t have much help when it came to that, I knew I wanted to play and could play but it was about finding the right situation," Crawford continued. Nine months after that loss to Miami, Crawford found himself signing with the legendary Harlem Globetrotters. While it wasn’t the introduction to professional basketball that he expected, he was glad that he was able to continue his career.
Despite his initial optimism regarding the situation, however, things didn’t wind up working out and because of that he spent a year away from the game. While that layoff could have been seen as a negative, Crawford took it in stride.
"I signed with them, but I never left to go play. I was under contract but I didn’t leave, so basically that whole year I didn’t really do anything. That time was really shocking as far as me thinking that my career could be over. I stayed in shape though, and I think that time off actually helped me because I missed the game. I was taking it for granted and didn’t realize how much it meant to me, it made me hungrier to play."
When September of 2014 rolled around, Crawford was ready to get his career kick-started. It was then that Mapfree Life, a professional team in Cyprus, came calling. "I got to Cyprus and it was way different and a huge culture shock. The game in general was a lot different, on defense there were a lot of fouls and you couldn’t play as aggressively. Even the fans were crazy; you had to be escorted out of games."
It was a unique introduction to professional basketball for someone from Ohio, but it was a learning experience that helped propel his game to the next level.
He was named an All-Star in Cyprus, as well as coming home with the scoring title. With all of the success that he had in his one season there, he had begun to generate some buzz from teams in the D-League. It came as no surprise when the Westchester Knicks selected him in the 5th round of this year’s draft.
He has appeared in every game thus far for the Knicks, with the most national attention to him coming when his mentor, famed boxer Floyd Mayweather attended one of his games.
"We’re really close, we talk all the time over the phone and through texts. He’s always staying on top of me and making sure that I’m doing the right thing," he said, discussing the friendship. "With his schedule, he’s obviously not able to make it to all of my games but he always checks up on my stats and I definitely consider him to be a mentor."
He has faced uncertainty at all of the levels that he’s played at thus far in his career, but Jordon Crawford has managed to succeed through hard work and determination. He may be undersized, but that has never held him back.
"I always want to leave my mark wherever I go. I want to leave a good brand here as a hard-worker, as a winner. I just want to do what I can to help the program and help me get to the next level, so whatever it takes I’m trying to do the best that I can every night."