Jae Crowder: Path to the NBA, 4/30

With less than two months until the NBA Draft, Jae Crowder has already hit the ground running through daily workouts in Milwaukee and weekends workouts in Miami. Through a combination of shooting, ball handling and agility drills, Crowder has his eyes set on taking the leap to the next level.

In Milwaukee, Crowder works out with fellow senior and NBA hopeful Darius Johnson-Odom. The two are trained by Mike Lee, head skill development trainer at Mike Lee Basketball. Lee also trained former Marquette players Lazar Hayward during his pre-draft workouts and, recently, Steve Novak.

Lee was contacted by Johnson-Odom’s agent, Lance Young, who also represents Wesley Matthews. Crowder has trained with Lee four times in April, working on an array of shooting, dribbling and agility drills.

“One thing that really has stood out about Jae is that he has great footwork,” Lee said. “Playing the ‘2’ or the ‘3’, a lot of it is about footwork. He has good footwork off the dribble and catch, and that’s the basis for shots in the NBA.”

Lee said he has enjoyed working with both Johnson-Odom and Crowder, in part because of the pair’s willingness to improve each time they step in the gym.

“I know they want to get better, and so there’s no motivation on my part trying to get them going,” Lee said. “They’re ready to work and ready to get better every day.”

Though Crowder will be one of the few players to switch positions and playing styles at the next level, feedback he received from multiple NBA general managers, as well as discussions with his agent and trainers in Miami made the decision to move to shooting guard easier.

Crowder is confident he can make the switch back to shooting guard, where he played for two seasons in junior college. (Marquette Tribune photo)

“Being able to move quick enough laterally to guard the ‘two’ and strong enough to guard the ‘three’ inside, we all talked and came down with this approach,” Crowder said. “And that’s what we’re going with.”

But the move to shooting guard will not be a first for Crowder.

As a 6-foot-2 player in high school, Crowder played point guard for Villa Rica. Crowder then shifted over and played shooting guard his two junior college seasons, one at South Georgia Tech and the other at Howard. His sophomore season Crowder led Howard to a national championship, and he was named junior college player of the year.

As Crowder grew to 6-foot-6 his sophomore season, Marquette recruited him as an eventual replacement to Lazar Hayward, who graduated the spring before Crowder arrived.

Once there, Crowder played the perimeter at times, but was relegated to a power forward role as one of the taller and stronger players in the Golden Eagle rotation. When Chris Otule and Davante Gardner each suffered knee injuries and missed a combined 35 games last year, Crowder took on even more of a role inside.

“A lot of people at Marquette didn’t get opportunity to see me dribble the ball,” Crowder said. “I had to adjust more to Marquette than Marquette had to adjust to me.”

Because of his past experiences playing on the perimeter, Crowder said the move to shooting guard has not been as much a challenge learning a new position as it is becoming comfortable doing it again.

As the name of the position would suggest, Crowder has continued work on his perimeter game.

The biggest adjustment for Crowder has been the distance of the 3-point line. The NBA 3-point line is three feet deeper than the college line, with the exception of the corners (22 feet instead of 23 feet, 9 inches).

Crowder’s first taste of the 3-point line occurred when the team practiced at the Bradley Center on the Milwaukee Bucks’ floor.

The college 3-point line became natural for Crowder the last four years, and early in his pre-draft workouts he found himself looking down before spotting up to shoot.

Now more comfortable with the 3-point line, Crowder’s shooting workouts include spot shots, two-dribble mid-range jumpers, shots off screens and interior shots.

One drill in particular has Crowder take five college 3-pointers (NBA mid-range shots), followed by five NBA 3-pointers at five different spots on the floor.

The toughest jumper on the floor for him right now? Jumpers from the corner.

“I never really shot too many of those at Marquette, but I have to get used to it again,” Crowder said. “Once you play off-guard in the NBA, point guards have isolations and then kick to shooters in the corner.”

Crowder’s admitted his biggest challenge will be handling the ball at the next level. To improve in this area, he goes through dribbling workouts in Miami as part of his weekend workouts. Crowder works with trainer Stan Remy at Athletes Edge through a combination of stationary practices and moves from midcourt toward the basket.

“I work on going between the legs with both hands, staying low, and getting used to the ball,” Crowder said. “And then we’ll put shots into the dribbling moves or shooting off the dribble. I’m feeling pretty good, and my confidence is rising.”

Crowder will also revert back to his younger days as he cuts down his weight to around 225 pounds. As a high school senior, Crowder spent much of his time losing weight and getting in shape to play quarterback, and in hopes of earning a Division I scholarship.

Most of Crowder’s weight loss since the college basketball season ended has stemmed from his conditioning in Milwaukee and Miami, and also making sure he gets enough rest every night and in between workouts.

“I can feel myself losing the weight, but with my agility work outs I truly see it working,” Crowder said. “I see it with my first step and being more explosive in my band work.”

Crowder’s agility workouts in Miami are headed by Mike Smith, director of sports performance at Athletes Edge. Crowder’s agent, Glenn Schwartzman, recommended Athletes Edge because one of his clients, Texas El-Paso cornerback Antwon Blake, was also training at the complex. Blake was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Jacksonville Jaguars following last weekend’s NFL Draft.

Smith’s main goals for Crowder are to improve his hip movement and lateral movement, and to work on a more explosive first step. This is done through an array of on-court agility workouts.

“At the next level it’s all about separation,” Smith, who trained Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Knight last year, said. “It’s about going from one movement to the next, and having a lightning quick first step.”

Jae Crowder recently did 16 repetitions on a 185-pound bench press. That would have been seventh most at last year's NBA Draft Combine. (Marquette Tribune)

And while Smith said it occurs more with NFL prospects and the NFL Combine, some of the agility work is done in preparation of the NBA Draft Combine, which will be held June 6-10 in Chicago.

Because Crowder is still in Milwaukee during the week, Smith has not had as much time to focus on combine-specific workouts. When classes at Marquette end next week, Crowder will be in Miami full-time. For now, Smith has had to force five to six days of workouts into a weekend period.

Despite the weight loss, the Big East Player of the Year has not lost anything in the strength department. Crowder was tested in the weight room last week, where he did 16 repetitions at 185 pounds. Next week, Smith will put Crowder through the rest of the combine-specific drills, including a standing vertical jump, a three-fourths court sprint and lane agility drills.

“Right now we’re trying to get most essential stuff in,” Smith said. “But looking at his athleticism and the way he moves, there’s no reason he can’t test in the top five in all those categories.”

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