Nov. 19, 2013
Crooker prepared for sophomore seasonBy David Boyce | Northwest vs. Baker | Wednesday, Nov. 20 | 7 p.m. | Bearcat Arena
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MARYVILLE, Mo. - Sophomore Conner Crooker enters Wednesday’s game at Bearcat Arena against Baker as the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 12.8 points per game.
It is quite remarkable considering where Crooker was at the start of his freshman season and where he was at the end of his freshman season.
“He came in so out of shape,” Northwest Missouri State men’s basketball coach Ben McCollum said. “His preseason last year was to get into shape. He didn’t learn as much.”
Crooker, a 6-foot-2 guard, was not sports-reporter fat or anything like that. He just wasn’t in college basketball shape. The MIAA is much different from the Eastern Kansas League Crooker played in when he was at Blue Valley North.
Crooker is smart. He was going to adapt and make the adjustments. His high school resume said so. He earned first team all-EKL his senior season and was also second team all-metro.
“Last year I started off pretty weak,” Crooker said. “I wasn’t used to the speed of the game. I had to get used to it and play my game.”
And so Crooker grew accustomed to MIAA basketball and started to excel by late in the season. He became one of the go-to Bearcats as Northwest neared postseason.
Crooker was having another fine game in the quarterfinals of the MIAA Tournament. He came off the bench and scored 13 points and played 25 minutes against Northeastern Oklahoma.
Crooker would have played a few more minutes and possibly scored a few more points if not for a severe left eye injury that happened late in the second half.
It was a disappointing way to end his freshman season. He was in the hospital when Northwest won its semifinal game against Fort Hays State.
“It was tough,” he said. “I really wanted to be out there with them.”
He was able to watch the championship game against Central Missouri from the bench.
Crooker took several months off before playing basketball again in July.
“I had to wear a face mask for a while,” Crooker said. “I didn’t like it at all.”
Once he returned, he said he didn’t change his game of shooting the three-pointer or driving to the basket.
“I thought of it as a freak accident,” Crooker said. “I cannot play scared. Everything is back to normal. I’m playing all right and driving. I will remain aggressive.”
Judging by his early statistics, Crooker has picked up where he left off before the eye injury. In the Bearcat’s recent win over William Jewell on Saturday, Crooker made four of six seven from the field and was second on the team in rebounds with four.
For the season, Crooker has made all 14 of his free throws and is shooting 44 percent from the field.
“He has played really well,” McCollum said. “He has grown up in a lot of different ways on and off the floor. He had a good preseason where his workouts were much better. He was just good.
“Obviously, during the season, he can do everything. He can dribble, shoot and pass. He does it all. We need him to keep doing that.”
Crooker said he definitely feels a lot more comfortable at the start of this season compared to last year and that is good news for the Bearcats.
“He will be really important,” McCollum said. “He has to hit shots.
“He is in shape, he is learning and getting better and getting the experience, The sky is the limit for him.”
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