On the surface, it’s not that unique.
Since Josh Pastner became the men’s basketball coach at the University of Memphis in 2009, 11 Memphians have played for the hometown Tigers, and at least one more, Jimario Rivers, is committed to play in 2016.
But redshirt sophomore guard Markel Crawford’s journey from local can’t-miss prospect to the present day has been anything but easy.
By the time Crawford was a junior at Melrose High School, he had already established himself as one of the top shooting guards in the class of 2013.
With offers from national powers like UCLA, Texas and Florida, the 6-foot-5 guard had any number of options for whom to suit up for after his high school career.
Then, just before his senior season while playing in an AAU tournament, Crawford tore his ACL, forcing him to miss the entire 2012-2013 basketball season.
“I had never had an injury like that,” Crawford said. “I always wanted to reach my full potential, and getting injured like that, me being a young guy, I didn’t know what to do. It was definitely scary.”
Crawford still finished his senior season rated as the 59th best player in the country, according to Rivals, but his college options had seemingly dwindled.
Crawford said several schools backed off of recruiting him after his gruesome knee injury, but one stayed in heavy pursuit.
“Coach Pastner recruited me like I didn’t even have an injury,” he said. “For him to do that and to see some of the top schools that were recruiting me leave like that, it just showed that he cared more about me as a person.”
So Crawford decided to stay at home and play for the coach that believed in him.
There is generally a different level of pressure that is put on local products to succeed at Memphis, and Crawford has always understood that.
“I embrace that pressure because there’s a lot of kids looking up to you here,” he said.
Unfortunately for Crawford, he was forced to redshirt his first season at Memphis to continue to rehab his knee.
“I think that time being out taught me a lot,” Crawford said. “Chris Crawford, Joe Jackson, Mike Dixon, Geron (Johnson), those guys used to tell me, ‘you’re going to be good; don’t worry about rushing back; make sure you get 110 percent because you’ve got a bright future, you’ve got a lot of potential.’”
Crawford spent most of his redshirt season rehabbing, spending every free moment in the gym, and maturing not only as a person, but also as a basketball player, absorbing as much information as he could from the Tigers’ four senior guards.
Once the 2014-2015 season rolled around, Crawford’s second at Memphis, he had not played in a basketball game in two full seasons, and he was ready to make one of his life-long dreams come true.
“Being a young guy growing up in Memphis, seeing the tradition that they had, it was a dream come true to play in the Forum,” said Crawford, who made his regular season FedExForum debut as a Tiger on Nov. 24, 2014 in a win over Prairie View, scoring nine points in 20 minutes. “With me being out for two years, first game with me playing in front of my family and my hometown, it was big to me.”
Last season, the Tigers struggled, finishing 18-14 – Pastner’s worst season as Tigers’ coach – and missed out on postseason play.
“I’m not trying to make any excuses, but I just think last year we had a lot of growing up to do,” Crawford said.
This season, however, Crawford believes the team chemistry is better than it was a year ago, and the players, as a whole, are better at playing for the good of the team.
“I just think that this year everybody is all about each other,” said Crawford, who has averaged 7.3 points, three rebounds and two assists through the first three games this season. “Nobody has a problem making the extra pass; nobody has a problem with another man scoring. I think that’s a big jump from last year.”
Despite the setbacks that forced Crawford to miss two consecutive basketball seasons, he knows that going back to the root of what got him to be one of the top recruited players in the nation is what’s going to make him successful, not only this season, but for the rest of his basketball career.
“I’m just a guy that brings energy,” he said. “I just get out there, and I’m all over the floor. I want to be good on the defensive end, but I’ve worked to improve the offensive end.”
Redshirt sophomore guard Markel Crawford has averaged 6.1 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists in his first 33 games for the Blue and Gray.