When you watch Marian Catholic's Ki-Jana Crawford play, it is like he never took off the pads from football.
The 5-foot-9 senior sacrifices his body and goes all out to stop an opponent. Crawford said that it's just playing good defense.
"I think you have to be aggressive," Crawford said. "You have to go all out on every possession if you are going to play good defense. I pride myself on my defense"
Crawford draws the opponent's top scorer. Marian coach Mike Taylor said Crawford, who will play football at St. Xavier University, is just a tough kid.
"I think some of it is the football mentality," Taylor said. "Ki-Jana only knows one way to go and that is hard. This whole group is very mature and they have been, most of them, three-year starters, so there is that maturity level there, too.
"But Ki-Jana is not afraid to go after a loose ball, nor is he afraid to take a charge. He is a tough kid."
Known for his defense and scrapping, it was his scoring that helped Marian come back and beat Benet Academy in December. He scored six of his 16 points in overtime and was 5 of 6 from the free-throw line. Teammate Tyler Ulis kept feeding his buddy.
"I knew I had the trust in my teammates and Ki-Jana down the stretch," Ulis said after the big win. "I knew they would be coming at me, so I got it to Ki-Jana because I knew he could get it done.
"I really didn't do that much in overtime. Ki-Jana did the scoring."
What Crawford did was provide some of the spark needed for the comeback, Taylor said.
"He had that spurt where I think he had five or seven points in about 30 seconds," Taylor said. "He kind of got us going and that is not surprising because those type of kids come up big when you need them to."
Crawford averages 6.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 1.3 assists for the Times No. 1 Spartans, who are 15-2. They host Marist on Friday night then get on the bus for a trip to Dubuque, Iowa, to face Dubuque Senior on Saturday. Crawford said he and his teammates know that some nights the offense might not be there.
"You have to step it up on defense and play hard," Crawford said. "Just because your shot is not falling doesn't mean you can't play hard on the other end and stop the other team from scoring."
He said tough defensive assignments in basketball it is like covering a top receiver in football.
"I love the challenge and with us, you are not out there alone," Crawford said. "We are a team and you have help-side defense.
"What you can do every game is hustle and go hard. If you do that, you will succeed."