At the top of his game

by Marshall Haim

Assistant Sports Editor

A decision to stay home to play collegiate basketball is a fairly easy decision. Jermaine Crumpton had the exact same mindset when he inked his National Letter of Intent (NLI) in November of 2012 to further his academic and basketball careers at Canisius.

The native of Niagara Falls, N.Y. had interest from other schools, but Canisius was the only school to offer Crumpton a scholarship.

“One of the main reasons I came here was to stay close for my family and my mom, she wanted to come see me play,” Crumpton said reflecting back to his high school days. “My family and my mother are my biggest fans. Just to stay home and allow my close friends and everybody to still see me play at the collegiate level is just great. I’m happy I chose to stay close to home.”

With the way Crumpton plays, you’d imagine he has played for a long time. That’s not the case. At the age of 12, upon watching his older brother, Michael, play on Niagara Falls High School’s varsity team with Jonny Flynn, an eventual sixth overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, it really motivated him to give basketball a shot.

“I just saw how much fun they were having out there,” said Crumpton, about the influence his brother and Flynn had. “Just to compete at the high school level, I felt like it was the college level with the way they were playing. It just motivated me to stay occupied, stay out of trouble and it’s the sport I fell in love with and it just went from there.”

While attending Niagara Falls High School, Crumpton was a three-year player, starting in his junior and senior years. During the years in which he started, Crumpton received high honors from The Buffalo News, being named to the All-Western New York teams. He was a member of the second team as a junior, before being named to the first team in his senior season.

On top of being named to The News’ highest honor for high school basketball, Crumpton and his Wolverines’ squad reached the Class AA final in all three years. The Wolverines advanced to the state quarterfinals during Crumpton’s junior year losing to eventual state runner-up, Aquinas Institute from Rochester, who was led by then senior and current Golden Griffin, Phil Valenti.

The meeting in the state quarterfinal was not the first meeting the two had together. Valenti and Aquinas traveled to Niagara Falls for a nonleague game a year before, in which Niagara Falls prevailed.

“Before we didn’t think much of it in our first couple years here together,” Valenti said about playing Crumpton twice while in high school. “Now we look back on it like ‘Wow, we’re still together five years later.’ We were both powerhouses then and now we’re playing together now in the same role.

“My junior year we went to Niagara Falls and they beat us. We beat them my senior year, so he’ll always say ‘One-and-one, one-and-one’, but we beat you when it mattered. We’ll go back and forth forever.”

Crumpton was also named a finalist for New York State’s Mr. Basketball Award during his senior year. The award is given to whom the Basketball Coaches Association of New York deems as the best player in New York State. Jon Severe, who transferred to Iona for his graduate season from Fordham, was given the award that year.

 

When Crumpton signed his NLI to play at Canisius, he became the first player to come from Niagara Falls since Dewitt Doss in 2000. Jermaine did not play his first year at Canisius, as he just practiced with the team, enabling him to redshirt and earn an extra year of eligibility. Looking back at it, redshirting was probably a smart decision.

In his freshman year, Crumpton played in 24 contests, starting in just three games before suffering a broken bone in his foot that had him sit out nine games before returning for the Griffs’ quarterfinal game at NJIT in the College Insider Tournament (CIT). He averaged just below 18 minutes per game while averaging 7.2 points per contest. He shot 40.4 percent from the floor, while converting on just over 32 percent of his shots from 3-point range.

Last season, Crumpton averaged just a shade over 10 points per contest (10.9), while shooting 42.5 percent. Crumpton never started a game last year, playing the role of the team’s “sixth man”. The 6-foot-6 forward averaged 21.7 minutes per game. In all games played last season, Crumpton never played under 13 minutes and saw the court for at least 15 minutes in 28 contests. He also averaged 3.1 rebounds per game (rpg) for the Griffs, who concluded the year with a 14-19 record overall and 8-12 within the conference.

During the offseason, however, Crumpton decided he needed to better his lifestyle and diet.

“Crumpton…worked hard in the offseason to improve his physical conditioning, and his workout plan took him into the Koessler Athletic Center pool,” the Canisius game notes that are handed out before each game says. “(He) dropped 15 pounds since the start of October in an effort to play more minutes and be effective at both ends of the floor.”

Crumpton agreed that losing the weight has benefited his play this season.

“I’m very happy. I feel like I’m playing some of the best basketball I’ve played in my career so far,” he stated. “I feel like I wouldn’t be doing that if I didn’t drop a couple pounds that I did. I sat back and realized how good I was playing in high school, I was lighter. If I wanted to continue to play at the high level, I would need to drop some weight.

“It’s easy for me to get up and down the court and makes plays that I wasn’t making in my first two years here. I got in the pool with Coach [Chris] Hawkins and we went for there. I changed my diet, lots of fruits and vegetables, stayed away from sugary drinks; a lot of water. Mainly, not only for basketball, but for my health in the long run.”

He ranks second on Canisius in scoring (17.3 ppg) and rebounding (5.1 rpg). Through Wednesday’s games, his scoring average was good enough for sixth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). Not only is he the team’s best shooter, (with a minimum of 100 shot attempts), converting on 51.6 percent, the figure also ranks sixth in the MAAC. Crumpton has also found a knack to convert on the three-point shot, shooting 42.9 percent, ranking second on the team and tied for sixth in the conference. He is the only player in the MAAC to be in the top 10 in field goal and 3-point field goal percentages.

Crumpton is one of three players to have started all 21 games so far on the season, joining the likes of Valenti and freshman guard Malik Johnson.

“I think he’s made significant progress,” Canisius’ first-year head coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “His fitness level has improved and from that everything else has improved. I think he has made great progress.”

With the work put into the pool and the change of diet, the statistical figures that Crumpton owns are impeccable. He has set career-highs in every statistical category this season, including a career-high 31 points against the University of Buffalo (UB) at the KeyBank Center on Dec. 17, where he also played 40 minutes in the Griffs’ thrilling overtime win.

He became the first player to score at least 30 points at the KeyBank Center since some guy named Steph Curry did it in the NCAA Tournament with the Davidson Wildcats in 2007 loss to the Maryland Terrapins. He is the 14th player in the arena’s history to score over 30 points in a game.

“It’s so crazy. I took it in when it happened, but we have bigger goals than just me,” Crumpton said about breaking a streak a current NBA All-Star and league champion held for almost 10 years. “I’m speechless to be mentioned in the same category with Steph Curry because we know his accolades.”

He then surpassed the career-high set against UB by scoring 32 points in a road win at Fairfield just under a month later (Jan. 10). In the win over the Stags, Crumpton added 10 rebounds, which was also a career-high, giving him his first career double-double.

Crumpton, or as everyone generally calls him “Crump”, once again made history in the win over the Stags. He became the first Canisius player to score at least 30 points and bring down 10 rebounds in a game ending in regulation since Canisius Hall of Famer Darren Fenn had 32 points and 11 rebounds in a win vs. Iona on Jan. 8, 2000. He also became just the ninth player in the program’s 113-year history to score over 30 points in a road game.

His 32-point outburst also helped set up Kassius Robertson’s career-high 30-point performance in the Griffs’ drubbing of the Marist Red Foxes four days later. It was the first time Canisius had different 30-point scorers in back-to-back games since the 1968-69 season, as far as detailed records go back per Canisius athletic communications.

In the Griffs’ last five games, which include the Marist game, Crumpton averages a team-best 19.6 ppg, while adding 5.6 rpg, second-highest on the team behind Valenti.

On top of playing well as of late, Crumpton has been recognized by the MAAC as the Player of the Week on Jan. 16. On top of being named the MAAC’s Player of the Week, he also received the honor of being the Jesuit Basketball Spotlight National Player of the Week.

Angela Lento, co-founder of collegeinsider.com, tweeted a video of Canisius following their win over Marist saying, “The real star of the team is Jermaine Crumpton. … Crumpton is a mid-major All-American and a legit MAAC Player of the Year candidate.”

“His scoring has certainly been impactful for our team and his rebounding as well. He’s one of our best rim protectors, because not that he has blocked shots, he’s willing to put his body on the line for his team,” Witherspoon said about Crumpton’s play. “He’s one of the better guys in the conference at doing that. He’s able to pass it well enough, it really affords us a lot within the framework of our offense.”

In the Griffs’ last game, against bitter rival Niagara, Crumpton had even more to play for. Playing only a few miles away from where he grew up, while being surrounded by friends and family, gave him an additional boost that he needed when playing the Purple Eagles. Despite losing, Crumpton finished with a game-high 22 points, while adding seven rebounds (including five on the offensive side of the ball).

“My phone starts ringing off the hook when they find out I’m coming up,” Crumpton stated about the support he received at Niagara. “A lot of people want tickets, but I can’t get everybody tickets. The city shows me so much love, they know I’m a hometown kid, they support me and I thank them for that. It’s great to have a city behind you.”

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