Crocker always wanted to be a Sooner

Oklahoma native Tony Crocker didn't let a coaching change deter his decision to be a Sooner. With his 10.6 average, Crocker could become just the second Oklahoma true freshman to average double figures in the last 23 years.

Norman — High school athletes, no matter the sport, likely dream of playing major college sports. Most have a favorite player, coach and school that they dream of playing with or for. Only a select few actually get to see their dreams come true. Antonio Lamar Crocker is one of the select few.

Crocker, a 6-5 bundle of athleticism who lived in Lawton, Okla., before moving to San Antonio, Texas, grew up dreaming of playing basketball at Oklahoma. Even though he grew up in an era where every game seems to be on television, he often listened to OU basketball games on the radio while growing up. It should be no surprise that the name that sticks into his head after all those radio broadcasts happens to be Eduardo Najera.

Najera, who is ninth on the Sooners' all-time scoring list, like Crocker is from San Antonio and it was that name that Crocker heard time and again in the mid- to late-‘90s. Though Najera, at 6-8, has three inches on Crocker, the two have similarities in that they both go all out and their passion for the game shows in how they play.

That passion has helped Crocker make a good transition to major college basketball. After graduating from Warren High School in San Antonio, Crocker attended prep school in North Carolina last year. It was at The Patterson School that Crocker played with fellow Sooner Bobby Maze and an assortment of other players who are also playing major college basketball.

Names like Iowa State's Wesley Johnson, Nebraska's Zac Henry and USC's Devon Jefferson are some of the guys Crocker waged battles with on a daily basis at The Patterson School. Because their talent level was so high, very rarely did they face competition during games that matched what they saw in practice.

But that is different in his first season at Oklahoma.

"Here, all the teams we play have someone that is really good," said Crocker. "It's better competition."

Competition is something Crocker likes and something he's used to. In high school, he often played against Antonio Daniels, who at the time was a member of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs. That competition fed his desire to get better and to play the game that he loves. His passion for the game was something that Sooner head coach Jeff Capel first noticed and liked about Crocker when the two first met.

It was during the period where Capel was not only meeting the players on the team, but he was also trying to keep a recruiting class together that was ranked in the top five in the country. Crocker was a part of that class and it was during that first meeting that Capel knew he had a keeper.

"I was supposed to meet with him at 9 p.m.," said Capel. "The home visit ended up being about 11:15. When I get to his place I'm sitting outside in the car and I'm on the cell phone trying to figure out if I'm at the right place.

"All of a sudden a car pulls up beside me and Tony gets out of the car with no shirt on, basketball shoes, ankle braces and he has a ball under his arm. He had just gotten back from playing. I told my assistant, ‘I love this kid already.'"

Crocker along with fellow freshman Keith Clark were the only members of that highly regarded class to honor their commitment to Oklahoma. The university allowed the other three — Scottie Reynolds, Damion James and Jeremy Mayfield — to go elsewhere after Kelvin Sampson left for Indiana.

Capel holds no hard feelings toward those who chose to go elsewhere, but he does have a great deal of admiration toward the young men who kept their commitment to the Sooner program.

"I think what it says is that the young man is committed to OU," said Capel. "As a coach, you want guys that want to be here. You want guys that have a passion for the place they‘re representing. When I recruit guys, that's what I want. I want guys that come to OU for more than basketball. I want them to experience OU because OU has so much to offer. The university itself not just the basketball program."

"I was going to be here anyway," said Crocker. "As long as I still had a chance to come, I was going to be here."

"He embraced us with open arms," said Capel. "That's tough. That's really, really tough. But that just shows his love for the university."

It didn't take the coaching staff long to figure out that Crocker has a chance to achieve a lot playing basketball.

During conditioning and individual workouts it was easy to see he had some skills. Those skills aren't just on the offensive end where his slashing style often leads to points at the rim with a dunk or his ever-improving jump shot. His long, lean frame allows him to do work on the defensive end also.

"I think he has a chance to be a great defender, and I don't use the word great very often," said Capel. "I think he's a guy that should get fouled a lot because of his ability to slash."

Ball-handling and continued work on his jump shot are areas where he has to improve. The good thing is that as good as he been so far this season, he appears to be just scratching the surface when you consider he only played about 10 games last season in prep school due to an ankle injury. He also had one of his knees scoped earlier this past summer, which took him away from the court for a few weeks.

Better days are ahead for Tony Crocker, which is good news because the present is not bad at all.

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