MILWAUKEE — It may have been in a different locker room, but Jae Crowder was celebrating yet another win at the BMO Harris Bradley Center when Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle cracked a joke to his rookie forward after one of the most complete games of his rookie season.
“I told him after the game I wish we could play all of our games here,” Carlisle said.
Returning to the building where he went 29-5 as a collegiate, the former Marquette University star scored 14 points and grabbed what at the time was a career-high eight rebounds in Dallas’ 115-108 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks last Tuesday.
And while his former teammates and coaching staff were in New York City, Crowder was still overwhelmed with ticket requests from those around him wanting to witness the former Big East Player of the Year’s first trip back to Milwaukee.
It’s not amazing that Crowder has become a contributor to an NBA team — he has the talent to have a long professional career. But like so many of the numerous players that have gone from playing for Buzz Williams at Marquette to the NBA, his path is what makes the story amazing.
Drawing little interest from anyone out of high school, Crowder committed to South Georgia Tech and was named Georgia Junior College Athletic Association Player of the Year in his only season at the school. The college was unaccredited after his freshman season, making the decision to transfer an easy one.
Like he’s done wherever he’s gone, Crowder made an instant impact at his new school. He led Howard College to the NJCAA National Championship and was named the Junior College Player of the Year.
Then it was on to Marquette, where continued the trend of becoming the best player in his league by winning Big East Player of the Year after his senior season.
Crowder was drafted with the 34th pick in the second round by Cleveland, but traded to Dallas on draft night. To anyone who has followed his career to date, Crowder’s instant impact with the Mavericks is no surprise.
“He’s done well,” Carlisle said. “He’s played the most minutes by far of all three of our rookies. He had great coaching at Marquette and he’s a four-year guy, so he’s mature. Anybody like that, that comes out of college as Big East Player of the Year, is going to be more ready to play in this league than most guys.”
Crowder has played in 62 games for Dallas this season and has started 14, averaging 5.6 points and 2.5 rebounds in 18.0 minutes per game. Though he’s filled in admirably during the season for the injured Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion, Crowder has gone through the usual rookie struggles at times.
“Ups and downs and I’ve learned a lot,” Crowder said of his rookie year. “I’ve been able to put what I’ve learned into place on the fly. I’ve been getting a lot of playing time. The older guys we have here have been tremendous and they always help me out each and every day.”
While Carlisle admitted his team — just two years off a NBA Championship — is focusing on getting younger, Crowder isn’t getting playing time just because he’s young.
“It hasn’t been playing him just to play young guys,” Carlisle said. “He’s earned the minutes. Really ever since opening night when he hit two or three, three’s in Los Angeles. He’s just a guy that when he steps on the court, he’s ready to play.”
Crowder credits Marquette and Williams as the reason he was able to go from a junior college star to getting praise and minutes from one of the most successful coaches in the NBA today.
“Not only did it grow me up on the basketball court, it grew me up as a man,” Crowder said of his time at Marquette. “That’s due to the coaches that I had. Buzz Williams is like a mentor to me. He helped me out each and every day to grow. That really helped me to mature being away from home for the first time ever. I had to adjust to a lot of things. With him and the teammates that I had, it was a great two years for me.”
Though Crowder was unable to have Williams and his former teammates at the BMO Harris Bradley Center for his first NBA game in Milwaukee, he was able to spend a day at the Al McGuire Center on campus, visiting practice and catching up.
Crowder took Mavericks teammate Vince Carter back with him, and Marquette’s current players spent the day trying to absorb every bit of knowledge from both guys.
“I remember myself sitting right there when D-Wade and those guys came back and talked to us,” Crowder said. “Now I’m here and in the position to give back and try and tell them what it’s like. I know those guys were all in and listening to me. It was pretty cool.”