by Leo Sepkowitz | @LeoSepkowitz
After being taken in the second round by the Mavericks last summer, Jae Crowder immediately made a name for himself. He opened the season as a key guy in Dallas’ rotation, playing 20 minutes on opening night against the Lakers in Los Angeles. Crowder scored 8 points, hit 2 threes and, most importantly, the Mavs won. He stayed steady from then on, playing in 78 games—starting 16—while contributing on both sides of the ball.
He can breathe easy this summer, as he’ll go into next season locked into a significant role on a new-look team. Things weren’t always so bright for the Georgia native, though, who had a uniquely challenging path to the L.
He graciously took some time to talk to SLAM this week about his struggle make it as a baller, how he’s improved in the past year and what it’s like to play with the great Dirk Nowitzki.
SLAM: You had a tough road to the NBA, but even before that, just getting to a DI school was difficult, right?
Jae Crowder: It was a tough time for me because I just didn’t know what to do. Like after I went to JuCo where I did what I had to do in the classroom, I come to find out that I went to a college that was unaccredited. So then it’s just like, What do I want to do now? How do I get to where I want to be? Sure enough, I got a call from another junior college (Howard) who said, We can get you the courses you need in one year and we’ll get you to where you wanna be. That’s when I went to Howard for a year, I did two sessions of summer classes and I got the credits I needed to get to a DI school. Once I got to a DI school, I knew it would be all left up to me. I think my hardest challenge was school-wise—actually getting to a Division I school.
SLAM: I read that [Marquette coach] Buzz Williams went and scouted one of your games at Howard and you didn’t play very well, but after he still called you up and said that he wanted you at Marquette. What was that like?
JC: That was amazing. Like you said, I knew he would be in the building that night, and I really wanted to go to his school. I really liked his school once we talked, and I really wanted to perform well for him—you know, his first time seeing me live in action. But that didn’t happen, I actually fouled out of the game, but he still was interested. So at that point I knew it was a no-brainer where I was gonna go to school.
SLAM: It seems like every year Marquette is a really tough out in the tournament. What is it about Buzz Williams that makes Marquette so good every year?
JC: He gets maximum effort out of his players. Somehow he does it. He turns these guys into what he wants them to be, which is hard-nosed guys. No matter if the ball’s going through the net, he just wants you to play hard and give it all you’ve got. He wants you to exert every piece of energy you have. I think he’s done a tremendous job with each and every year installing that into guys and building the program. I think he’s really turned the basketball program around and he expects so much and sets the bar so high for each and every player that comes through—he gives you the opportunity to be great and he just pushes you, pushes you, pushes you every day to be the best you can be.
SLAM: You had a nice two years at Marquette then got picked in the second round by Dallas. What was the draft process like for you?
JC: Me personally, I had a lot of people doubting me…my whole life since I’ve been playing basketball, really. I just wanted to get in the door. I knew after my college basketball career that I wasn’t gonna go undrafted, but I knew there was a possibility of me falling to the second round and I was fine with that. I just wanted to get in that door and prove myself.
SLAM: What was your mentality last summer? Was it just about making the team?
JC: Nah, I kinda knew I was gonna make the team, but I just wanted to play! Lotta guys say playing for Rick Carlisle, you’re probably not gonna play, they’re gonna send you to the D-League, they’re gonna do this and that. And I’m like, How are they gonna do that when they haven’t seen me play and contribute to the team? I wanted to be on the court and in the rotation helping these guys, and do all the things that people said that couldn’t happen my first year in the League.
SLAM: You played about 20 minutes per game during the first month of the year—that’s pretty rare for a second-rounder. What did it mean to have the confidence of the coaches and veterans early on?
JC: It was great. When I was playing a lot, the older guys would always ask if I had any questions, if I wanna ask anything. Because there was a lot of stuff we were going over that they already knew but was new to me. So those guys really just took me in from Day 1, all the veterans from my team.
SLAM: Dallas was pretty veteran heavy with Vince Carter, Marion, Fisher, Brand and obviously Dirk. Did anyone specifically help you with some things or was it all of them together?
JC: It was definitely all of them together, but position-wise, me and Shawn play the same position and me and Vince play the same position…so really Vince really took me in and still takes me in to this day. And a lot of guys say, ‘What do you mean, Take you in?’ It’s on-the-court and off-the-court stuff. It’s just he’s trying to show me how to be a professional and how to up my game to the professional level. Vince Carter really went head over heels for me and really believed in me early and helped me out.
SLAM: Dirk was injured for about the first 25-30 games last year. What were the differences when he came back both with team mentality and individually for you?
JC: Our team mentality was a little different because we knew he was gonna come back and we were gonna have to switch up our offense a little bit. We couldn’t play as fast as we were those first two months without him. We knew that was gonna change. So we were just trying to do what we had to do to win as many games as possible without our superstar. And me personally…He draws so much attention each and every night, that you’re gonna get the open shots…you just gotta stick it…He draws so much attention, you’re just playing off him the whole time. And once I got in that groove of playing off him—and cutting off him when he has the ball in the post because all heads are turned to him—once I learned that, the game started to come a little bit easier.
SLAM: When Dirk returned, were you amazed at the things he could do on the floor?
JC: [Laughs] He would hit some shots, man…he’d hit some shots and I’d look over to my teammates like, ‘What? What kind of shot…how’d he hit that?!’ And I’d look at my teammates like, ‘Did he hit that?’ And some of the guys who already played with him would be like, ‘Bro he’s just warming up…that’s nothing, man.’ I was shocked though. He hit the toughest shots. He might miss the easiest one—the one he’s wide open—but when someone’s all over him, him fading away, him yelling and all that, it still goes in, nothing but net, and you’re like, ‘Well how did he make that one?’ It’s just amazing. He’s a true professional, a future Hall of Famer and one of the best power forwards to ever play the game.
I just soak up his work ethic and see how he does the same routine each and every day, nothing different. It’s as slow as you want it to be, but it’s really efficient. He comes to work every day, he does his work, he leaves everything on the court. That’s one thing about Dirk that a lot of guys don’t know. He’s a leader, but he’s a leader by action. He doesn’t talk much, he’s not a rah-rah guy in the locker room, but when he’s ready to play, everybody around him better be ready to play as well.
SLAM: What about trash talk? Does Dirk talk a lot of trash?
JC: Oh yeah, he does that. NBA guys know that, man. He doesn’t say too much, but when I guy tries to, as we say, ‘punk’ him—try to get up in him and play real physical with him—he stands up, he stands up to that. I remember one game we were in Utah, and a player got a Flagrant 1 on Dirk, and he stood over him a little bit. [Dirk got him back] by coming back and scoring three straight buckets on him. But that’s the kind of dude he is, he’s not really gonna talk, but he’s gonna stand up to the fight. If you try to talk trash to him, he’s gonna stand up and try to show you why he’s one of the best to play the game.
SLAM: Last year, a lot of your biggest games came against the top teams. Do you get extra motivated when you go against LeBron, Melo, Kobe…those guys?
JC: Oh yeah, I’m extra motivated. I’m more motivated when somebody says I can’t do this or it’s gonna be hard to do this, it’s gonna be hard to score on this guy or stop this guy. That’s one thing that as a basketball player I’ve fed off of all these years…You try to bring your A-game every day of course, but when those games are on the line and you really want that win, you just gotta play your best.
SLAM: I know you go against the other team’s best scorer a lot of nights. Who’s the toughest guy to guard in the League?
JC: Personally I think Kevin Durant, because I’ve guarded every top guy in the League scoring-wise, but I think Kevin Durant is No. 1, and the reason why I say that is because you can play great defense on him but he can get a shot off at any time. He’s just like a Dirk Nowitzki but he’s a guard. He can get the shot off, it doesn’t matter how good you press up on him. He can get the shot off any time and he’s such a good shooter. Kobe Bryant is right behind him, if not in front of him because he’s proven himself and time after time he’s hit tough shot after tough shot. One time we played the Lakers one morning on ABC, and I was guarding Kobe in the fourth quarter and [laughs] it got ugly for me. He hit some real tough shots, he hit like three tough shots in the clutch in the fourth quarter on me.
SLAM: Yeah, you were a rookie…he had to welcome you to the League.
JC: Oh yeah, right. He for sure did that. For sure!
SLAM: You guys ever mess around with Mark Cuban about Prokhorov and what he’s spending in Brooklyn?
JC: Yeah…I mess around with him and see what he has to say about his money. Because everybody knows [Prokhorov] is worth more—way more than what Cuban is. He’s shown he has pretty good assets… [laughs]