Feb. 14, 2000
You had to feel for the guy, because what they were asking him to do just wasn't fair.
But then you looked around and saw there was no other choice. For better or worse, for taller or shorter, someone was going to have to get out there.
Chris Crosby stood at 6-foot-6, and he stood behind the three-point arc. And every night some unlucky guy was going to have to step out there and try and guard him. Some high school kid with small-forward size.
It just wasn't fair.
On most prep teams Crosby would have been restricted to the low block, but not at Chatfield High in Littleton, Colo. Nope, Chatfield didn't need him down there muddling things up. Not with a 7-foot center and two ominous power forwards, one 6-foot-8, the other 6-foot-6. Down low Crosby would just be a waste. A waste, because unlike the others Crosby was developing a deadly outside shot.
It was that lethal stroke that led to the honorary title "Mr. Basketball" for Class 5A Colorado hoops when Crosby was a senior. It was that long-range threat that WSU quickly recruited. It was that net-kissing accuracy that made Crosby the Cougars' second-leading scorer as a sophomore and junior. And it was that perimeter prowess that stood out as one of the inescapable strengths that Paul Graham inherited when he took over as Cougars head coach in March of 1999.
Yet what stood out more was what Graham hadn't inherited: size. He had a pocket full of shooters, but few to corral any rebounds. And as Graham and Crosby examined the roster, one thing became glaringly obvious. A change had to be made.
"I grew up wanting to play the swing position because I would watch Michael Jordan and he was 6-6 and a two-guard," Crosby said. "I remember in high school knowing that there was no way that at 6-6 I could play the post and make it to the NBA. That's really when I stared working on my shot and trying to become a good shooter...But my high school team was taller than the team we have now, so I knew what had to happen."
This time you had to feel for Crosby, because what Graham was asking him to do just wasn't fair.
After four years of high school, after three years of college, after seven total years of being a shooter, Crosby had to give it up to play the post.
In high school, Crosby was almost too big for the perimeter. In college, although now listed at 6-foot-8, he was undersized underneath. But he (along with newcomer Brian Whitehead) was the second-tallest guy on the team. Like it or not, Crosby was going to have to spend his senior campaign leading a team with a new coach and a new offense, while playing a position he didn't know.
"I feel like a freshman at times," Crosby said. "It's almost like learning to play basketball again when you are learning a whole other position."
Crosby has accepted his new role without a single complaint. Still hopeful of playing professionally in the future, he vowed to not think about what was being taken from his game, but to concentrate on what was being added.
"It scared me a little bit, but it kind of excited me," Crosby said. "It was something I wanted to do. I didn't want to be known as just a shooter, I wanted to be able to do more than one thing. And I knew that just being known as a shooter wouldn't help my aspirations to play basketball after college."
Often outsized -- surely inexperienced -- Crosby has not only been educated this season, he's been humbled, too.
"I'm so used to chasing guys around screens the past few years that I never really had the proper respect for those guys down low having to guard big people," Crosby said. "It wears on your body. I get done with games and my body just hurts from banging around underneath...It just beats you up. I hadn't anticipated it being that difficult and that physical. I have a whole new respect for those guys now."
Slowly but surely, Crosby has shown potential in the post. Halfway through the season, Crosby had reduced his turnovers while increasing his rebounding. In general, his game is more well-rounded today than it ever has been, as he demonstrated in WSU's heartbreaking overtime loss to Oregon, Jan. 22.
Crosby poured in a team-high 25 points in the one-point loss. He hit four three-pointers, but scored inside as well. He made his way to the free throw line where he was perfect in eight attempts. He pulled down six rebounds. He did everything he could to get the Cougars a win.
"When I got done with that game, even though it hurt to lose, I was satisfied with the fact that I felt I had played a complete game," Crosby said. "I felt like I finally had been able to see all that work in practice carry over to the game. For so long in October and November I'd go home and wonder if I could really do this stuff, but the Oregon game showed that my hard work paid off."
These are the victories Crosby must be satisfied with. It's difficult, Crosby admitted, when such dedication in practice doesn't translate into checks in the win column. And it's bittersweet, he said, to know that while a great foundation is being laid in WSU basketball, he won't be around to enjoy the finished product.
"As a player you want to leave on a high note," Crosby said. "I want to leave it on the floor every night. I don't want any regrets. I don't want to look back ten years from now and wonder, 'What if?'"
It's a shame that an athlete coming into his own as a player would be forced to hang up his shoes. Collegiate athletics does that sometimes. And after all this, when it becomes Crosby's day to walk away, you'll have to feel for the guy, because sometimes what we're asked to do just isn't fair.
ADDITIONAL NOTES ON CHRIS CROSBY:
STILL GOING: Crosby's WSU career may be coming to a close, but that doesn't mean that this is the last of his basketball days. Whether in the United States or overseas, Crosby is still working toward his childhood dream of playing professionally. "If you think about it, to be able to go out and play a kids' game and get paid money for it, what more of a greater job could you ask for?" Crosby said. "Whether it's for twenty years or one year, I can look back and say that I played professional basketball. It may not have been at the highest level, but it's still professional basketball and I'm taking home a paycheck. I'm not ready to call it quits. I feel like my career is unfinished. There are still things out there that I want to accomplish in basketball. I'm just not ready to get on to the real world and work 9-to-5 everyday. I have my whole life to do that."
WHEN IT'S TIME TO STOP: While he may have hooked his current dream wagon on professional basketball's star, Crosby - a business major - is more than ready to take on the world by more white collar means. Although, not too white collar. "My dream is to make enough money, where I could be co-owner of a golf course," Crosby said. "I'd love to be able to just sit back and run it and play golf all day." And by "all day" he means it. After all, basketball isn't the only sport he wants to go pro in. "I want to make senior tour by the time I'm 50," Crosby said. "I figure I've got about 30 years to work on that goal."
A GAME TO REMEMBER: All athletes strive for perfection, but few get close. Crosby was within an eyelash of actual perfection Dec. 21, 1998 in a game against border rival Idaho. In what he called his best game ever, Crosby played 34 minutes putting up 17 shots, including ten from behind the arc. He missed only once from the three-point line, four times overall, and finished with 38 points as WSU won 84-69 - one of only ten wins on the season. More than a year later, Crosby said he is still amazed by the night. "The more I look at it, to make nine out of 10 threes in a game (is amazing)," he said. "There is a difference between making nine threes and nine-of-ten threes in a game. I look back and that's something that I'll probably never be able to duplicate. That's one of those games that you just sit back and take it. There are so many ups and downs in basketball that when a day like that happens you just have to sit back and enjoy it. I was having so much fun that game, not just because I was making shots, but because I was so relaxed and so calm. When I got the stat page after the game I couldn't believe it said nine out of 10. I mean what can you say? I just shot the ball really well, I guess."
SOMETHING TO PROVE: The departure of head coach Kevin Eastman left Crosby confused about his future at WSU, Crosby said. Coming up on his senior year, Crosby would have rather polished his game than rebuilt it, but it took only one meeting with Coach Graham to change his mind about leaving WSU. "I was really confused and frustrated and I was looking to go other places," Crosby said. "I didn't' know who they were going to hire here. When they hired Coach Graham and I had a chance to sit down and talk to him one-on-one, it was simple, I knew I wanted to play basketball for him." But in with the new meant out with the old, and that meant a lot of changes in Crosby's approach to basketball. However, thanks in part to some encouragement by Graham, Crosby realized he had areas of his game that not only needed improving, but just plain proving. "I'm banking on the fact that I can shoot the ball," Crosby said. "I know I can shoot the ball, other coaches know it, other teams know it, scouts know it, fans and everybody that comes to the games know I can shoot. But do they know that I can rebound? Do they know that I can get a guy open? Do they know I can play defense? Do they know I can score going off the dribble, or score in the post? Do they know I can do all that? And that's what I need to prove I can do if I want to play after college...This year I'm probably playing more for respect, and doing everything I possibly can to give myself a chance to play basketball beyond college."
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