New and incoming freshman Markel Crawford is a kid that is about to become a young man at the University of Memphis. He has big dreams and those dreams are about to become true, especially at the collegiate level. He has a chance to show the entire college basketball world the reason why he is on the big stage. Even though the 2013-2014 season is far away, there can still be ongoing conversations about what to expect from the basketball program at Memphis.
On his wall back at home, Crawford basketball heroes are Kevin Durant and King James. If you ask him about them, he would say that he wants to be just like them. Playing basketball at the highest level is what he wants. Crawford comes from the projects out of the Bethel Grove neighborhood. Next to today’s NBA stars, he had a piece of paper on his wall that listed his goals.
“My first one was to make it out the hood. The second one was to get to the league or something like that. Then the other one was just talking about my mama. Making sure she clean,” said Crawford.
The second-oldest of Dorothy Emmones’ three children, Crawford and his siblings had it hard growing up. When he, his mom, and older sister moved into the house where the family now lives, they only had a mattress and a dresser.
Emmones (49-years-old), Crawford’s mother, battled with an drug addiction and his father, 73-years-old, was in and out of his life. “We stayed with him for a while. They still go see him,” said Emmones. “Me and him didn’t see eye to eye. He was an alcoholic. He wanted to fight and get drunk, so we just got on down.”
Crawford first fell in love with the sport of basketball on Malone Ave. It was something to give him so he wouldn’t get into any trouble. He went from playing street ball with the neighborhood kids to the 6-4, 180-pound guard who many loved at Melrose High School.
Dean Cleaves, 34, was one of the family’s neighbors and he played an major role in Crawford’s life. He put up a portable basketball goal on the street in front of his house that Crawford and his brother, C.J., wore out over the years. It was that goal, as Cleaves and Crawford would say, where all of the magic happened.
“They used to come down there and hoop all day and all night,” said Cleaves. “Sometimes I would play with them if it wasn’t too hot. But they didn’t care if it was hot, cold or what, they came down there and shot basketball.
“I felt like if he was going to do something, it’s better to be playing basketball than running these streets doing nothing.”
Through all of the issues that Crawford and his family had endured mentally, from the drug addictions to the horrible living conditions, nothing has broken Crawford’s dreams. He was an excellent student in the classroom, making the honor roll and developing into an outstanding basketball player. His former coach, Jermaine Johnson, saw him play as an eighth grader at Airways Middle.
“I snuck in towards the end of practice and I saw him teaching a kid how to shoot a free throw properly,” said Johnson. “I was astonished watching this eighth grade kid teach a sixth grader how to shoot a free throw the right way. I’m like, ‘This kid here is special.’ ”
Johnson said Crawford’s mom called him before he began high school and told him she was going to enroll him at City University instead of Melrose. Johnson wasn’t having that.
“I said, ‘Huh?’ Nah, this can’t be,” said Johnson. “I was at a basketball camp in Iowa and I got on a flight the next morning, met with her and the rest was history.
“I told her, ‘I cannot promise you anything. The only thing I can promise you is to give my all and make sure your son goes to college for free.’ He did that. He put in the work. He qualified. But the thing that intrigued me most is coming from the situation he’s come from and being able to actually come out of it despite the adversity he went through.”
John Wilfong, former Tigers player (1983-87) and one of Crawford’s former AAU coaches, is also impressed with how Crawford has overcome the obstacles in his life. In addition to family problems, Crawford tore his ACL in his right knee and he was forced to sit out his senior year. The injury took place last summer while he was playing AAU basketball. Crawford mentioned that he is 85 percent, but will not be cleared to practice with the team by Memphis’ team doctors until at least Sept. 1.
“He’s had it as tough as anybody I’ve ever seen,” said Wilfong. “But, at the same time, I’ve never seen him without a smile on his face. He’s always been someone who has been a great teammate. Every team I’ve had that he’s played on, he’s been one of the favorite teammates. Kids love to play with him and they love to be around him. So he’s been a joy to help.”
Asked where he believes Crawford’s fortitude comes from, Wilfong said: “It comes from within. It comes from his desire to achieve and to overcome. He’s just a unique person.”
Johnson also commented on Crawford’s toughness. “It’s his faith. A lot of kids would have thrown in the towel when he found out he couldn’t play his senior year. But he kept a positive attitude, became a student assistant coach and actually his game is better now than it was before.”
When coach Pastner met with Crawford and his family around the time he had committed to Memphis, he was met by others in the neighborhood. It was very important to his family that Crawford leaves the hood and his neighbors felt the same way.
“They love Markel on the block,” said Pastner. “When I went in and people saw me, they were like, ‘Coach, look after Markel. We need Markel to make it. Markel represents the street, this block.’ Even when I came out of the home, it was the same thing. They all kind of gathered around and said, ‘Coach, we love that guy. We’re so proud of him.’
“It reaffirmed more so than ever how important basketball is to this community. It’s deeper than just wins and losses. Markel deserves so much credit for him to be able to have the opportunity that’s in front of him. His high school coach, his AAU coaches and his mentors in his life have helped him get to where he is today. But also a lot of credit has got to go to Markel himself. He stayed on the straight and narrow and did things right. He’s so respectful, accountable, responsible, dependable. Our fan base will fall in love with this young man.”
I received this information from the Commercial Appeal.