March 6, 2013
Crooker takes homecoming to historic Municipal Auditorium
Tipoff: Thursday 2:15 p.m.
Stadium: Municipal Auditorium
Radio: Bearcat Radio Network
John Coffey (play-by-play), Matt Gaarder (color);
Heard on on seven stations that covers four states in the Midwest, and on the Internet from the flagship station KXCV.
Rankings (NABC Top 25/NCAA Central Region)
Northeastern State: NR/8th
Series: Northwest leads the all-time series 3-1 winning the only regular season matchup this season. Northwest and Northeastern St have a brief postseason history meeting in the 2001 NCAA South Central Regional in Topeka. The Bearcats took a 60-58 win over NSU to advance.
Northwest: Ben McCollum (Northwest '03) 63-47 (4th season)
Northeastern State: Larry Gipson (Heidelberg '74) 313-252 (16th season)
Game Quick Links
By David Boyce
Conner Crooker is returning to Kansas City to play some basketball in a venue he has heard about but never stepped foot in.
During his high school days, Crooker, a graduate of Blue Valley North, was more concern about beating rival Blue Valley Northwest.
Those days are in the rearview mirror. But the Northwest Missouri State bus is barreling back to his hometown.
Crooker, a freshman point guard for Northwest men’s basketball team, helped make the trip to the venerable Municipal Auditorium possible.
In the first round of the MIAA Tournament, Crooker joined the Bearcats three-point party with a couple of treys and finished with 10 points as Northwest defeated Missouri Western 66-46 Monday evening at Bearcat Arena.
The victory earned the Bearcats a spot in the quarterfinals of the MIAA Tournament. Northwest, 19-9, will take on Northeastern State, 19-7, at 2:15 p.m. Thursday.
“It is pretty exciting,” Crooker said. “I know I am going to have a lot of family come down and watch me. I don’t want to disappoint them. I want to play my best.”
One of the 20 or so family and friends who will be sitting in the stands Thursday afternoon will be his father, Greg. It will be his first trip to Municipal in 20 years.
The last time he was there, he heard there was some pretty good basketball being played so he decided to check it out.
As fun as the NAIA Tournament can be, it doesn’t compare to watching your son play in the historic auditorium.
“I am looking forward to it,” Greg said.
Northwest coach Ben McCollum figures Crooker will be up for the challenge.
“He is a gamer so it is going to be fun,” McCollum said. “He is a big game guy. Hopefully, he will be down there. He will have quite of few people who got to see him play in high school, see him play there.”
Crooker has become mentally stronger as the season progressed. He left high school with a reputation of a good outside shooter. By midseason, the outside shots stopped falling.
“I started off the year and I was kind of timid and more of a shooter,” Crooker said. “Once I started missing more of my shots, I realized I had to do something else for the team to be more productive so I started driving more and became pretty successful at that.”
A perfect example of it came Feb. 16 when the Bearcats absolutely needed a win. They were on a three-game losing streak and facing one of the better teams in conference in Washburn.
Crooker drove to the basket and went 6 for 8 from the field and finished with 16 points in Northwest’s 63-61 win over Washburn.
“I was glad he finally got into a rhythm,” Greg said. “He was playing well and then he got hurt. It was good to see him get out there and make a couple of outside shots Monday night. He hasn’t made a lot. He has been driving in and shooting floaters.”
Soon after the game against Washburn, Crooker sprained his left ankle in practice and missed the next two games and only saw about a minute of action in the regular-season finale against Truman.
His performance on Monday against Western was a relief.
“I now know I can play well on my ankle,” Crooker said
McCollum was glad to see Crooker play well on a sore ankle.
“He is going to need to push harder for the rest of the conference tournament,” McCollum said.
Based on the way Crooker has grown on the basketball court this season, McCollum figures he will.
“I think mentally he has come a long ways,” McCollum said. “In high school a lot of times, kids are better than a lot of the players so they don’t have to necessarily earn the things they get. When they get to college, they are forced to earn it and forced to be patient and they are forced to be mentally tough because everybody at this level has talent.”
During postseason play, you have to raise that mental toughness another notch up.
“I can definitely tell the difference,” Crooker said. “If we lost, we would have been out. You have to play like it is your last game. We had more energy starting off and had more intensity because we didn’t want the season to be over. We had to win it.”
And that is the attitude Crooker and the Bearcats will bring to Municipal Thursday afternoon.
For more information, please contact:
Phillip Dowden, Media Relations/Sports Information
firstname.lastname@example.org | 660.562.1118 | Fax: 660.562.1582
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