Crawford's great NU career comes to an end

Drew Crawford's remarkable Northwestern career came to an end on Friday night, bringing bittersweet feelings as he left the court one last time.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Walking off the college hardcourt for the final time, Drew Crawford struggled to keep his emotions in check.

Fans of Northwestern, Michigan State and just about everyone else in Bankers Life Fieldhouse stood to salute the remarkable five-year run Crawford had as a Wildcat. As he headed toward the tunnel, someone abruptly grabbed him by the shoulder. It was Spartan coach Tom Izzo.

"Well, I just said, ‘Hey, you've had a hell of a career, and I'm really proud of you. I'm glad you stayed,'" Izzo said. "I told him that. I think that kid could play some basketball beyond college, I really do. Wherever it is, I said, if I can ever be of any help, call me."

Overwhelmed by the respect from one of the Big Ten's best, Crawford responded to Izzo.

"I just told him it's been an honor playing against his teams for five years," Crawford said. "Michigan State is an unbelievable program, and it's always been fun playing against such great teams. So you know, it means a lot that he's always kind of respected me as a player, so it was nice to send it off that way."

Whether the Wildcats were stocked with talent like the 2012 upset of the seventh-ranked Spartans or overmatched like in Friday's season-ending loss, they always gave Michigan State their best. Crawford was often the catalyst for that. It's what made Crawford so widely respected throughout the Big Ten.

In his final collegiate game, Crawford scored 21 points and passed Billy McKinney for second on Northwestern's all-time scoring list.

"He's one of those kids in the league that it's a joy to go against him because you know he's bringing it every night," Izzo said.

History is now just that for Crawford. His decorated Northwestern career is over. His legacy will be guiding the Wildcats to consistent success under Bill Carmody, then returning for a fifth year to bridge the transition into the Chris Collins era.

It's something Northwestern's first-year coach is grateful for.

"He was an outstanding leader, and Drew and I, our arms were locked all year long," Collins said, getting choked up in the press conference. "And when a best player and a coach get a relationship like that, it forms a really strong unit. And that's what we had, and that's why we played so hard this year."

Added Crawford: "I care about Coach Collins so much, every single one of my teammates, the entire coaching staff, down to the athletic trainers, our sports performance coaches, our managers. Everybody just has showed me love since I've been here, and it's been a fight, and we've done it together."

Last spring, Crawford faced the decision of leaving Northwestern and taking his fifth year elsewhere. Northwestern didn't have NCAA Tournament talent on its roster, and was about to embark a rebuilding year.

Crawford wanted to be there for his teammates, new coach and program. That's how his legacy will be remembered. It made leaving the court one last time bittersweet.

"It's a tough feeling walking off, but I can say that I walked off happy, feeling like I gave my all to this program," he said. "There's nowhere I'd rather be for my last year, and looking back, I don't regret that decision at all, and I love being a part of this team this year."

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Northwestern Wildcats, and currently covers the Purdue Boilermakers. A Chicago native, he resides in West Lafayette.
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