Jan. 12, 2007
by Paul Newberry, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) – Javaris Crittenton is putting his own stamp on a hallowed position at Georgia Tech.
When the Yellow Jackets need someone to make a big shot, find an open teammate or come up with a crucial defensive play, he’s their man.
It doesn’t matter that Crittenton is still just a freshman, a mere 16 games into a college career that doesn’t figure to go the distance.
There’s no time for growing up when you’re a point guard.
“Not to sound cocky, but as a point guard, it has to be your team,” Crittenton said sheepishly. “I’m the floor leader, the coach on the floor, so I feel like it’s my team.”
No apologies required. It’s clear that Crittenton is a worthy successor to those who came before him at Point Guard U, a who’s who that started with Mark Price more than two decades ago and grew to include Kenny Anderson, Travis Best, Stephon Marbury and Jarrett Jack.
This is a program that seems to directly trace its successes – and failures – to the guy bringing the ball up the court.
Bobby Cremins was eased into retirement when he suddenly lost his magic touch at recruiting someone to run the point. Likewise, the Yellow Jackets slumped to 11-17 a year ago when they were hindered by erratic play at that same position.
With Crittenton, Georgia Tech (12-4) already has won more games than it did all last season, setting itself up for a likely return to the NCAA tournament.
“I love to watch him handle the ball,” said teammate Anthony Morrow, who’s got two years on Crittenton. “He’s a real leader.”
It showed Wednesday night, when Crittenton scored nine of his 11 points in the final 3 1/2 minutes, helping the Yellow Jackets upset No. 11 Duke 74-63 – just the second win in their last 22 encounters with the Blue Devils.
But it wasn’t just the scoring. Duke had trimmed an 11-point lead down to a single basket when Josh McRoberts blocked a shot to set up a possible tying possession. But before he could do anything with the ball, Crittenton sneaked in from behind, swiped it away and went in for a momentum-changing dunk.
After the Blue Devils missed their next shot, Crittenton took off the other way and lobbed a pass to fellow freshman Thaddeus Young for an easy lay-in. Finally, following yet another Duke miss, Crittenton swept in off the right side, took a pass from Mario West and laid in the shot despite a hard foul by Greg Paulus that sent the freshman tumbling to the court.
He got up and knocked down the free throw to complete a three-point play, putting the Yellow Jackets comfortably ahead at 62-53. Duke never got any closer than six the rest of the way.
“Crittenton made the play of the game when he stole the ball away after we played great defense,” Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We had a chance to tie the game or even go ahead with a 3, but they scored instead. We missed, and they scored again. After that, the game got away from us.”
Last weekend at Clemson, Crittenton scored a season-high 22 points that included a floater the lane over several defenders with 6.5 seconds remaining that put Georgia Tech ahead. Alas, the unbeaten Tigers drove the length of the court for a layup, pulling out a 75-74 victory.
That loss only made Crittenton more eager to take down the Dukies.
“I’m a very confident person at all times,” he said. “I came into this game with the mind-set of winning. If I would’ve had two points, as along as we win, I don’t care. I mean, I want to play well individually, but all that matters is the team winning.”
The freshman is averaging 13.7 points a game and ranks among the Atlantic Coast Conference leaders in both assists and steals.
Impressive stats aside, coach Paul Hewitt likes the way Crittenton’s enthusiasm and effort are wearing off on those around him.
“He’s still going to make those youthful mistakes,” Hewitt said. But “this team has a chance to be different and better because of his energy, not necessarily because of his skill level. He’s a good basketball player, but he just plays so hard that he pulls his team along with him.”
Yep, Point Guard U is back in business.