Back in the Game

Terrence Crawford has the reputation for being the team comedian. <BR><BR> Laughs in the locker room or the team hotel on a road trip often times are instigated by Crawford. It might be a joke. He might compare one of his teammates to a celebrity. Crawford also does imitations, including coach Eddie Sutton. <BR><BR>

"Vic," Crawford says in a raspy voice, imitating Sutton addressing former point guard Victor Williams at practice. "What is wrong with you? You're not in the game. You're not half the player you were last year."

It's good Terrence Crawford has a sense of humor. After everything he's endured his four seasons at Oklahoma State, laughter makes it easier to continue his daily pursuit of battling back from three major injuries.

Highly recruited out of McGuinness High School in Oklahoma City, Crawford was projected to be a star, one of the top high school recruits during the Sutton era. When he signed, Crawford was to be a cornerstone for years to come.

Injuries, though, have robbed Crawford of some of his skills. Still, he's persevered to assume a valuable role off the bench on a team that has emerged as a Big 12 title contender.

"I try to find the good in every situation," Crawford said. "Everything happens for a reason. I try to make a positive out of a negative. I just know that I'm blessed. A lot of people would love to be in my situation."

Playing Division I basketball at a school that annually reaches the NCAA Tournament is a blessing. But it hasn't been easy for Crawford, who has spent about as much time rehabbing injuries as he's been on the court.

"Coming out of high school, the biggest injury I had was twisting my ankle," Crawford said. "Coming here my freshman year, and getting hurt again and again, it's been a learning experience for me. What I've learned is if I'm patient my time will come."

It's an admirable approach considering what Crawford has overcome:

His freshman year, during nonconference play, Crawford exhibited some of the potential coaches raved about. Flashes of his upside were evident in lopsided wins. Everything changed when he suffered a severely sprained knee on Dec. 19, an injury that forced him to miss eight games.

Crawford's sophomore year was the only season he was relatively injury free but he still wasn't fully recovered. He played a role off the bench and tied his career high with 12 points against Texas Tech.

One of his career highlights occurred in the Texas Tech rematch at Gallagher-Iba. With the game tied, Crawford's put-back basket with 5.3 seconds left lifted the Cowboys to a 64-62 win, a valuable win considering standout guard Mo Baker had left the game with a severely sprained ankle.

Crawford was to challenge for a starting role his junior year. But during the first week of practice, the 6-foot-6, 240-pound forward suffered a torn Achilles running wind sprints. Crawford sat out the entire season and received a medical redshirt.

"I was in rehab for 10 months," Crawford said. "It's tough going to rehab every day, and you really don't see any progress. You're doing the same thing over and over. But you have to look at the big picture, knowing you're doing it to get back on the court.

"(Trainer) Murphy (Grant) worked with me, telling me to stay focused. He helped me become a better person. You can't have success without struggle. That's kind of been my motto."

A year of exhausting rehabilitation allowed Crawford to participate in this season's pre-season bash in October. Crawford was limited. But he was showing progress. He was encouraged. Once again his world was turned upside down days later in practice when Crawford was sidelined by a significant injury. This time it was a cracked bone in his tibia behind his knee.

"His thigh bone hit his knee just right where it cracked," said his mother, Carolyn Orton. "They say they normally see that kind of injury in skiing accidents or car wrecks."

Crawford spent nearly two months waiting for the bone to heal. There was speculation Crawford might have to sit out a second consecutive season. Crawford, though, constantly asked doctors what he could do to speed up the process. He finally made his first appearance on Dec. 20 at Arkansas.

"It's unreal what's he's gone through," Carolyn said. "It's more than I can express, everything he's done just to be a part of this team. He's worked really hard. It means the world to him to know he's contributing."

Crawford's value was exhibited in a 72-67 win at Texas, a win that stamped the Cowboys as a viable postseason contender, a win that propelled them into the top 20 national rankings for the first time this season.

In the Texas win, OSU was protecting a 2-point lead in the final minute when Crawford grabbed an offensive rebound and passed the ball back to the perimeter. Following a timeout, with time running out on the shot clock, Crawford was wide open for the game-clinching basket with 27.4 seconds left.

"He's displayed a lot of courage just to have fought back from all the injuries that he's had," Sutton said. "I thought his play in the Texas game was very instrumental in allowing us to win. He only played nine minutes but had five rebounds." Crawford's role has changed. Even though he has lost some athleticism due to three injuries, Crawford has a high basketball IQ. He's been in the program four years. In Sutton's defensive-oriented system, players like Crawford are valued by coaches.

"He's become a very good defensive player, a really quality post defender," said associate head coach Sean Sutton. "He might do as good a job as anybody on our team of keeping the ball out of the post. He's a very smart player. He understands the way we want things to be done on and off the court."

The cracked tibia delayed his progress. Crawford essentially sat out 18 months because of the two injuries. Unable to work out, Crawford gained some weight. The past month he's worked hard to shed pounds and improve his conditioning.

"From an offensive standpoint he'll continue to get better as he gets in better shape," Sean Sutton said. "I don't know if he's ever going to be a consistent big-time scorer. But I do think he'll score some points. Right now, he's most valuable as a defender and a screener. You have to have guys like that who come off the bench and give you quality minutes."

Sean Sutton compared Crawford's value to Brian Montonati, an invaluable contributor on the 2000 Elite Eight team.

"They're different players," Sean Sutton said. "But Montonati, at the end of his junior year and his senior year, developed into a very smart player. He brought a lot of stability to our team. Terrence is like that.

"People think if a guy doesn't start, it's hard to be a leader. That's not true, in Terrence's case for sure. He is really respected by his teammates. He's committed to winning. He can really help us this year and next year from a leadership standpoint."

Crawford averaged 21.0 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists his senior year at McGuinness. It's unrealistic to think he would compile similar numbers with the Cowboys even if he were healthy. But the fact he's sometimes on the court in late-game situations is proof the coaching staff has confidence in Crawford.

"When I first came here I was more of a jumper and a dunker," Crawford said. "Now I've changed my game and try to out think people. My athleticism isn't where it used to be. Hopefully, I will mature to where I can still contribute to this team."

Crawford's injuries aren't the only circumstances he's had to overcome. Crawford is the only player on the roster who made the trip to Colorado three years ago when 10 members of the basketball family died in a plane crash.

For Crawford, it was one of many difficult experiences. His father, Ricky, died of Lupus when he was 11 months old. His mother nearly died with the same disease several years later.

Crawford, 22, was close to three people who died in the crash. He had played basketball with Nate Fleming since age 10. Daniel Lawson, the other teammate who died in the crash, spent the Christmas holidays with the Crawford family in Oklahoma City one month before the tragedy. Because he rehabilitated a knee injury his freshman year at OSU, Crawford developed a relationship with trainer Brian Luinstra, who also died in the crash.

"It's been difficult, but I have good supporters and good parents that keep my head above water," Crawford said. "There's not a day goes by I don't think about it, that I'm blessed that God spared me. I think the families struggle the most. But it's definitely hard for me, too."

Crawford was 5 years old when his mother married Larry Orton. His stepfather helped Crawford develop his basketball skills.

"My family is really close," Crawford said. "They've really helped me through everything. I've seen my mother go through a lot. I think that's what has made me so strong, to see how strong my family is spiritually."

Diagnosed with Lupus years earlier, Carolyn nearly died during Crawford's senior year at McGuinness.

"I became gravely ill," Carolyn said. "They didn't think I was going to make it." It was difficult for Crawford, who was juggling basketball and school.

"Seeing her hooked up to all those tubes, it was an emotional roller coaster, something I wouldn't wish on anyone," Crawford said. "It was rough. I didn't like going to the hospital. I let my dad keep me up to date. I tried to use basketball as my outlet. When I stepped onto the court I tried not to think about it as much as possible."

Carolyn said she's proud of the way her son has handled the plane crash, her ordeal in the intensive care unit four years ago and the injuries.

"Terrence has been through a lot," Carolyn said. "He's a trooper. He's overcome so many obstacles so many times in life. He's been fighting an uphill battle since he was born."

Crawford said he's learned something from every ordeal, including his injuries. It's an admirable approach considering everything he's been through. Crawford, a junior, will receive his degree in business management in May. He will begin work on a master's next season.

"I know God wouldn't give me more than I could bear," Crawford said. "It's taught me to mature a lot. I think that's what I bring to the team. I know what it takes to come back from an injury. It just makes me want to work even harder, maybe something I didn't have before I got hurt.

"Sitting out really makes you appreciate getting on the court. I never take that for granted. That's something I maybe did in the past. Now that I've come back I just want to help my team any way possible."

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