Sylvia Crawford is a publicist for the city of Detroit. Let's start with that. You think you're smart and creative? You think you're tough? Try hyping the Motor City for a living. Sylvia knows about hanging in there. She's schooled in putting best feet forward.
That she is the mother of Xavier sophomore Jordan Crawford -- a.k.a. The Kid Who Dunked on LeBron -- only makes the story more compelling. Jordan Crawford knows about hanging in there, too. He's wiser than a college kid should have to be. Sylvia's son has been a checker piece on the quasi-amateur basketball board, jumped here and there. Five coaches in two seasons. Finally, he might be a king.
Crawford leads the Atlantic 10 conference in scoring (19.7 points per game), shots attempted and shots made. He is the dominant player at Xavier, a place known for producing good players, not stars. While Xavier has made significant player contributions to the NBA, only one, David West, was a great college player.
Crawford could be next in line. More importantly, he has found a home. All it took was a rough introduction to the way things work in big-time college basketball. Crawford didn't write the book on suffering for the sins of others. It happens all the time in college sports. But he is a chapter.
"All that stuff he went through, I don't regret it now,'' Sylvia Crawford said. "It's good for young people to learn it's not all gravy. Things are going to happen in your life that you can't control.''
As a freshman, Crawford survived the resignation of Kelvin Sampson at Indiana. He played for interim coach Dan Dakich and hung around for a month after IU hired Tom Crean before transferring to to Xavier. The NCAA denied his request to play immediately. He sat last year, expecting to play for Sean Miller this year. Miller left for Arizona last April.
A kid could get cynical.
A mother was already there.
"What do you make of a system that punishes a kid when a coach leaves?'' I asked Sylvia Crawford.
"That's a loaded question,'' she said.
Sylvia knows the drill in college athletics. Jordan's older brother, Joe, was a McDonald's All-American. He signed with Kentucky, after committing to Michigan. He played for two coaches at UK. Sylvia emphasizes the "privilege'' of receiving a college scholarship. So many talented basketball players in Detroit did not get the opportunity her sons have gotten.
That said, what happened with Jordan narrowed her eyes. "I wish all the grown people with the power would realize the situations they leave these young people in,'' she said. "You trust they're on top of things. You put a lot of trust in the university. It challenges my faith in them. Why is the kid the one punished?''
Jordan Crawford intended to stay at Indiana, even as his teammates left, one by one. "Armon (Bassett), Jamarcus (Ellis), DeAndre (Thomas),'' he said. Crawford said he knew it was time to leave when he saw one of the last Hoosiers holdovers, Brandon McGee, running stadium steps in the rain, as punishment for being late to study hall.
"He was two or three minutes late,'' Crawford said. "It was after the first day of summer classes. No homework. I was thinking, if they're going to do him like that, they're going to do me like that, too.''
The first call he made was to Xavier. Miller would be thrilled to have him. Only by the time Crawford got eligible, Chris Mack, one of Miller's assistants, was named head coach. "At least I knew Coach Mack,'' Crawford said.
Sylvia was there through it all, urging her son to keep his grades up, be patient, wait it out. She reminded him, "You've had five coaches. I've had four (Detroit) mayors.'' Her advice was reflected recently in Jordan's words: "Just know there's going to be better days. Can't do nothing about it. Nothing, so just wait your turn. I waited my turn.''
Without Crawford last winter, Xavier reached the Sweet 16. With him, the Musketeers are in the middle of a tight Atlantic 10 race. Crawford has taken more than twice as many shots as anyone else on the team. That has required some adjusting.
"There's no star system here,'' said Xavier assistant Travis Steele. "But this team may be a little different. (Crawford) needs to get shots for us to be good.'' The early season was a shakedown cruise for Crawford, itching to make his mark after missing a year, and for the Musketeers, who lost three starters from last season.
Crawford responded by playing too urgently. He shot too much and without conscience. "Guys didn't have a lot of trust that the ball would come back around,'' Steele said.
That scrape has healed itself. Or rather, Crawford has healed it with his play. "The best players pick their times,'' Steele said. "As the year has gone on, he has learned to pick and choose.''
Crawford is a 6-foot-4 guard with the bulk to get to the basket. There is no book on him. He can drive and dunk, drive and dish, drive and pull up. He can make a three if you discourage the driving. (Sylvia claims her son's three-point prowess comes from playing against Joe, who would pound Jordan if he tried to drive.)
His teammates feed off his confidence.
Twice in the last two weeks, Crawford has bailed out a sleeping Xavier offense, once at home against Rhode Island, then on the road at UMass. In each game, he shook the funk out of the Musketeers with a rapid flurry of three-pointers, assists and drives to the hoop. "On this team, I see myself as a scorer first,'' he said. "I just sense times when I have to step it up for us to win.''
Joe Crawford, a member of the L.A. Defenders in the NBA Development League, talks to his little brother daily. When he can't watch Jordan's games, he asks Sylvia to text-message him updates, "like every five seconds,'' Sylvia says.
Jordan Crawford said he has never beaten Joe in one-on-one. No matter. He has beaten everyone else, it seems. And everything.
"It's such a joy to see him,'' Sylvia said. "We are blessed that (Xavier) has created a stable environment for him.''
A few weeks ago, I asked Crawford if he was happy at Xavier. It's not a question normally asked of an athlete. Crawford knew what I meant. "Yeah,'' he said. "Finally.''