Crawford continuing on road to return

As Northwestern has struggled this season, senior forward Drew Crawford can only sit and watch, sidelined with a torn labrum which required season-ending surgery. Now, Crawford is working his way back to full health with a return next season in mind.

As his teammates put up shots Friday afternoon, Drew Crawford stood in sweats by a side basket, lofting up left-handed floaters and layups. Though undoubtedly a positive sign to see him playing around with a ball, one couldn't help but think how much Northwestern could use its star player entering the final stretch of the season.

Thursday marked nine weeks since Crawford underwent surgery on his torn right labrum, an injury that appeared to bother him on the court and subsequently shut him down for the season in December. He's been forced to watch from the sidelines while Northwestern has labored to a 13-14 record, dropping to 4-10 in the Big Ten after Wednesday's loss to Wisconsin.

Though Crawford is all but a lock to return on a medical redshirt for his fifth season, it's been difficult for him watching the Wildcats go through growing pains on the court. What's more, the senior won't get the chance to end his career with classmates and close friends Reggie Hearn and Alex Marcotullio.

"It's really tough, especially coming in with Reggie and Alex and not being able to finish with them," said Crawford. "It's tough sitting on the bench and not being able to do a whole lot, but I just try to keep the guys motivated and coach them up when I can."

Post-surgery, Crawford has begun his rehabilitation process with Northwestern's athletic staff under the watchful eye of trainer Lanny Bradford. The road to his return has been rigorous, and before he can return to the court he must get his shoulder back to full strength.

"At this point, it's a lot of range of motion stuff that I'm working on, trying to get my arm fully extended to the front and side," said Crawford. "[I'm] in there every day trying to get that back."

With his right arm extremely limited, Crawford has worked extensively on his off-hand. Upon his return, expect marked improvements going left from an already capable scorer. He's put in the work to expand his game even further heading into his final season.

"I have the ball in my left hand all the time dribbling," said Crawford. "I've been working on some stuff in the post, like lefty hook shots and finishing. I can't do a whole lot at full speed yet, but [I'm] just trying to get a good touch. It's a good time to be able to work on that."

Based upon the training staff's diagnosis, Crawford hopes to suit up in full come April or May. He'll rejoin a Northwestern team that also brings back Jershon Cobb and Sanjay Lumpkin from season-long absences, plus incoming freshmen Jaren Sina and Nate Taphorn. The young Wildcats have faced trial by fire all season, and Crawford hopes his squad will be that much better off as a result.

"I feel really lucky," said Crawford. "I'm happy to have the opportunity to come back and play next year. I think we have guys [that] one more year of experience is really going to help. I'm looking forward to it, but right now I'm just focused on the moment and finishing this season strong."

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