Crandall Head Earning More Playing Time

Crandall Head (Holly Smith)

The Fighting Illini basketball team added three promising freshmen to its roster when fall practice began. Jereme Richmond and Meyers Leonard figured to receive consistent playing time, while Crandall Head's time depended on his full recovery from knee surgery. Head sat most of the year, but he got his first start at Ohio State.

Crandall Head made an immediate impression in fall camp for the Illinois basketball team. He has tremendously quick feet and hands, and he demonstrated a willingness to play tough on-ball defense.

Coach Bruce Weber encouraged him to work on point guard skills since there was no backup for Demetri McCamey. That may have set him back since he was turnover-prone, something you can't have in your point guard. While he saw a little playing time early in the year, it appeared Head would languish on the bench the rest of the season.

But improvement in practice combined with a lengthy slump endured by D.J. Richardson encouraged Weber to give him his first start at Ohio State. Weber didn't tell him until just before the game.

"I was surprised, but I just had to go out and perform and do what I can do," Head remembered.

Did it take awhile to get into the flow of the game?

"Probably not too long. I was a little winded the first couple of minutes, but then I got adjusted."

Head explained why he thought he earned the start.

"It was just me working hard, keeping a good attitude, just being ready to play. I bring a lot of energy to the game, and I play good defense."

Weber was pleased to see Head continue to work hard and not get discouraged after seeing so little playing time throughout the year.

"Crandall's played well in practice. He's kept a great attitude. I'll be honest, I've been very surprised and happy that he's been very positive. He stuck to the script, did what we say. When you're not playing it's hard to deal with, and he's done it."

Head admits it was frustrating sitting on the bench.

"Of course it's been frustrating, but I just try to keep a good attitude and wait for my name to be called."

Head has characteristics Weber wants in his guards.

"He does give us quickness, some athleticism. He can get to the basket. You saw he got into the paint, penetrated. He was in there when we made a little run second half (OSU), and I thought he started well for not playing a lot of minutes. He gave himself a nice shot of confidence, for himself and for us. Now you're not afraid to use him when other guys are not playing well."

Head didn't play competitive basketball his senior hear of high school due to knee surgery, and he was a turnover machine as a junior at Crane Tech. He still had those tendencies upon arriving at Illinois according to Weber.

"In practice he's starting not to turn it over. That was his biggest thing. Every other or every third time he would turn the ball over. You could never get in a rhythm to trust him. Now he's starting to slow down a little bit."

Head admits he must think about his ball handling constantly in order to correct his flaws.

"Yeah, it's all just a matter of getting comfortable. Just taking care of the ball and valuing the ball more."

Head has also been dealing with major flaws in his jump shot. Besides working on getting a higher release point, he has had to overcome a bad habit he learned while recovering from his knee surgery. He began shooting off one leg and kicking the repaired leg out so it wouldn't land on the ground. Now he can't seem to stop it.

"It's gonna take all spring, all summer, all fall for that, and he's got to want to do it," Weber explains. "When he had his leg injury, and now you come back too early, all of a sudden you get bad habits. You want to get back in the gym and start shooting, and you're afraid to land on that leg. It's all subconscious.

"It's gonna take some discipline and some mental toughness to come back and make himself. I've taken him a few times and made boxes with tape on the floor. I say, 'You've got to jump up and come down within the box.'

"I talk about a phone booth, and they don't even know what a phone booth is. You go up in a phone booth, and you come down in a phone booth. You've got to land in the same spot. It's gonna take repetition, not only with us but on his own. Two hours a week with us in the off season is not gonna get it.

"He's starting to come in early. Our coaches have done a good job of grabbing the younger kids and working them out extra before and after practice, and sometimes the older guys jump in there too."

Head admits he has much work yet to do.

"Yeah, exactly. It's sort of a habit that you can't get over too quick. You've just got to work at it. If I do, it should help my shooting."

Weber isn't concerned about Head's point totals the rest of this year. He wants him to be a disruptive force on the defensive end, something the team needs badly.

"He can get after people. He can shoot the gap. But you've got to be in a stance, you've got to be ready to do it and want to go get that steal and get a layup. Those extra points could help us."

Some have reported the experiment of trying to make Head into a point guard failed. But that is not how he sees it.

"They want me to play point guard and some on the wing. Basically just to come in and defend and get a couple points if I can. I actually feel a little better at point guard right now, just from playing it this whole year and getting adjusted."

How much playing time he receives the rest of this season likely depends on his continued growth and the needs of the team. Regardless, the recent playing time has encouraged him to work harder in the off season.

"Just coming out and seeing how game experience is makes me want to work harder and get better."

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