Nadkarni: Crawford’s time is now

Rohan Nadkarni, Assistant Sports Editor

Last year, heartbreak became the norm for Northwestern’s men’s basketball team.

The team suffered so many tough, close losses – Minnesota, Purdue, Michigan and Ohio State to name a few – that the failure to reach the NCAA Tournament felt that much worse.

Gone this year is all-time leading scorer John Shurna, the poster child not only of the basketball program but perhaps also of NU athletics in general. But his absence creates a spot for someone else to bring the joy back to Evanston: senior guard/forward Drew Crawford.

The 2009-2010 Big Ten Freshman of the Year has become the team’s de facto leader. He’s the most talented player left on the squad, and he now carries the burden of bringing the Cats to their first NCAA Tournament in school history.

Fortunately for Crawford, arguably the best supporting squad in school history will be on his side.

Sophomore point guard Dave Sobolewski flashed much potential last season, and the added height of freshmen centers Chier Ajou and Alex Olah and Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire should make up for the loss of the suspended JerShon Cobb.

But for me, this season is about Crawford. He grew up as the son of NBA referee Dan Crawford, so he must know how important history is to the game of basketball. Basketball is unlike any other sport. In this game, individuals leave marks that determine how we view them in the future.

So many great college players in recent years carried teams not only into the tournament but also through it.

Gordon Heyward took an out-of-nowhere Butler program to a near-upset of Duke in the national title game. Kemba Walker carried Connecticut the next year against the same Butler team, hitting clutch basket after clutch basket. Who remembers Mario Chalmers’ improbable shot over Derrick Rose in 2008? The one that eventually led to a Kansas championship.

Way back from Juan Dixon in 2002 to Anthony Davis seven months ago, college players with varying talent levels have left their mark on the sport.

Although Crawford may not go down in NCAA history, this year is his chance to go down in NU history.

This season, the Cats will make the NCAA Tournament. They are too talented not to make it, even with the suspension of Cobb. Coach Bill Carmody, who I (kind of regrettably) criticized on multiple occasions, remains loved by his players and is more than capable of leading this team into March.

Crawford will be the leader of that team. He’s the guy who, when the game gets tight, palms get sweaty and every possession lasts an eternity, will have the ball in his hands.

All of that means this season is going to be about the mark Crawford makes at NU. It’s his time to shine, and he holds a chance to bring something to the university that every single student, alumni, professor, janitor and Plex’s pasta maven Carlos have waited their entire lives for.

If (but really when) the Cats make the NCAA Tournament, Crawford’s face will be the one plastered on posters, programs and tickets.

And although Shurna will occupy a piece of the heart of every NU fan, Crawford can be the one who brings the school what it has always been waiting for.