Interview: Jon Crispin

BRO talks to the transfer from Penn State, Jon Crispin, about his recruitment, a major setback in his life, and about what he'll bring to the team next year...

BRO got a chance last week to interview Jon Crispin. Jon, who will turn 20 on January 19, is a 6-0 195 two guard who transferred to UCLA from Penn State. He is redshirting this season and will have two years of eligibility, starting in 2002-2003. Last year, Jon averaged 7.2 ppg and made 35.6% of his 3s and 73.7% of his FTs as a SO starter for Penn State, which went to the Sweet 16.

Bill Bennett (UCLA's assistant SID): Jon, come over here. BRO wants to interview you.

Jon: Oh, no. Not him.

BRO: I told you I was going to get you.

Jon: Fine. Fire away.

BRO: You're from South Jersey, right?

Jon: Pitman. 2 square miles, 10,000 people.

BRO: You must have gone to a small high school.

Jon: We had about 500 students.

BRO: So, is football or basketball the big sport out there?

Jon: Football, really. But we won two straight state championships in basketball. The whole town really got into it. It was great. We played the state finals at Penn State, and it seemed like the whole town was down there to root for us.

BRO: How do they classify schools out there?

Jon: Group 1, 2, 3 and 4. Group 1 is the smallest, that was our classification. But in my JR year, we played a lot of Group 4 schools in tournaments and we went 28-3 that season. I was the tallest guy on our team. It was a bunch of short white guys.

BRO: Did you and your brother play other sports besides basketball?

Jon: Joe played some baseball. I played football and baseball. Football was my favorite sport, originally, but I got too many concussions and had to give it up.

BRO: So, I assume Penn State was the big school around there. Is that why you went there, or was it more just to play with your brother?

Jon: Penn State is really big for football. It wasn't so big for basketball. I definitely wanted to play with my brother, but originally it looked like I would go somewhere else. When I was a JR in high school, I started hearing from some pretty big schools, Kentucky, North Carolina. Kentucky was the school that was recruiting me the hardest and I really liked Coach Smith.

BRO: What happened?

Jon: I broke my back in two places.

BRO: Wow. When did this happen? How? In an auto accident?

Jon: No. I guess I'd done something to my back in football and didn't know about it. Then I was in the slam dunk contest at the NIKE Camp the summer before my SR year and I went up to dunk the ball and boom, I just snapped two vertebrae. I was healing pretty well, but then I got all these calls from all of the coaches saying, "Sorry about your accident, we have to move on." Coach Smith called and said he was withdrawing the offer, he was very sorry, but he said he just couldn't risk a scholarship on a player who was hurt like I was. I don't blame them, I wasn't sure about what was going to happen for awhile, though I always believed I would play again. So, the injury kind of made things easy for me. I wanted to play with Joe, and then everyone who was recruiting me sort of vanished, so when Penn State offered me after they checked me out during the year, it was great. I'd already been to the campus a lot, I really loved the town, loved the school.

BRO: So, you loved the town and you loved the school and you got to play with your brother. Now, fast forward: It's two years later, and your brother has finished his eligibility, and now you can't seem to leave that school fast enough. What happened?

Jon: I was just miserable. Don't get me wrong: Penn State is the nicest place in the world, the people are great, but from October to March it just wasn't a pleasant stay. I just wasn't getting any better as a player and I had a terrible relationship with my coach. I averaged almost 10 ppg as a FR and then everything seemed to go backward. I'd play a good game, like against Kentucky, and no one said anything. The next game, if I took a shot, I'd get yanked out of the game and they'd tell me, "You're not in there to shoot." The next game, I'd be passing it around and they'd say, "You're the shooting guard, shoot the ball." I didn't understand what was going on and if they were explaining it to me, I wasn't understanding it. If you can't even talk to your coach, that's not a good situation. So, I decided it was time to move on.

BRO: So what were you looking for in your new school?

Jon: I wanted to come to a program that was one of the best of the best, I wanted to play for a ring. Every player who wants to compete wants a ring, that's why you play. I wanted to get better as a basketball player, so I needed to find a coach where, if he told me something, I'd understand it.

BRO: What schools did you look at?

Jon: Originally, it looked like Florida. It looked like Teddy Dupay wasn't going to be there, so I thought I would go there. Then, it was like Ted Dupay is still here, so can you wait until we see what happens? I started talking to some other schools. I really like Coach Harrick, so Georgia looked like the place. Then I spoke to Coach Lavin on the phone. I don't see how anyone who talks to Coach on the phone doesn't want to come here. It was really amazing talking to him, I could understand everything he was saying to me and I felt like he understood me too, that was such a big change from my experience that it was a total shock to me. So I came out to UCLA for a visit and I really loved the campus and the people I met here and my teammates. Florida was still calling, saying, "wait, wait," but I knew that UCLA was the right place for me. I've been hearing people say I won't play here, but I'm ready to prove them wrong. I love a challenge. Coach Lavin challenged me right from the start, he told me what I need to change if I want to play and I'm ready for it.

BRO: Have you chosen a major yet?

Jon: History. I'm using this year so I can get my degree before my eligibility is up. My brother didn't get his degree from Penn State, so I told him I was going to beat him to a degree. Then, I'll either enter a Master's program or take basket-weaving my senior year, I haven't decided which.

BRO: What's it like, redshirting and sitting on the sidelines while everyone else plays?

Jon: Everyone tells me it's a great opportunity. I get a whole year to study the system, study my teammates, get a coach's perspective on things. The truth is, it's murder. Especially when the team isn't playing well. I want to run onto the floor and set everybody straight. It's really hard sitting out. I'm just doing the best I can.

BRO: So, what do you think are the strengths you'll bring to the team next season?

Jon: I can shoot the ball really well. I'm very strong and athletic, and I can get to the hole pretty easily. I can play defense, especially against these Pac-10 guys, coming out of the Big-10. The Pac-10 players seem to have a different idea of defense than the Big-10 players. When we scrimmage, and someone penetrates or dishes or we move the ball around, I'm getting 3 seconds to spot up and shoot. I've never had that experience before. I see Jason and Billy getting those open looks now. If I get those kinds of looks next year, with Ced dishing, I will shoot pretty well.

BRO: What are the things Coach Lavin wants you to do differently?

Jon: Shot selection, making sure I'm lined up for my shot, but not to focus on being a scorer, just getting my shots within the flow of the offense. He's also asked me to take on a leadership role next year. I played close to 30 minutes per game as a freshman and sophomore, so I have a lot of experience, and we will be a very young team next season. He wants me to show the way on defense, show the younger players how to be tough, mentally and physically, and not be so laid back. Basketball really goes to the team that wants to win the most, more than talent or anything else. So I'm here to show these guys what it means to want to win, all the time, 100%, every game. Coach also wants me to play backup point guard. Growing up, our dad kind of molded us. Joe was always the point guard, I was always the "2" guard, so playing point guard is a new role for me.

BRO: How do you prepare for a role if you haven't played it before? Most point guards start playing point guard when they're in the 8th grade.

Jon: That's true. It's going to be a matter of will power, again. I can penetrate pretty easily, I'm stronger than most guys my size and most people don't realize how athletic I am. If you can penetrate, you can draw the defense to you and then you can kick the ball out to your teammates. I'm not worried about handling the ball, bringing it up the floor. One thing I have seen from sitting on the bench, the game is actually very simple. What I see with our guys out there, they have so much talent, but sometimes they are just trying to do too much, they're forcing plays when the simple play will do even better. That's a big key to whether or not we win the Pac-10, win the National Championship, just staying mentally focused all the time and making the game as easy as possible. If the team needs me to play a few minutes at backup point guard, or if they need me to start at the "2", whatever, the important thing is to stay focused and to keep things simple. If you do that, your talent will come out and you can accomplish anything.

BRO: Thanks, Jon.

Jon: Thanks, man.

BRO: See, that wasn't so bad.

Jon: Me and the media. I have to watch what I say.

BRO: If you ever say anything embarrassing, just blame it on the concussions.

Jon: Yeah. That wasn't me, that was someone else. Hey, coach, sorry, that was someone else talking. Hey, professor, sorry, I just can't concentrate. Yeah, that works pretty well. I'm going to use it.

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