Crook’s return could change WKU’s fortunes

Sophomore guard Jamal Crook wipes his face before a free throw against Austin Peay. Crook recently came back from a broken foot to go 0-of-7 from the field against Troy.

Lucas Aulbach

Senior point guard Jamal Crook’s return to the court in WKU’s win over Troy Thursday makes the Toppers a more dangerous team than they’ve been since December.

Crook, who averages 13.3 points and a team-leading 4.7 assists per game, was sidelined after a win over IUPUI on Dec. 8 with a broken bone in his right foot. He was on the WKU bench for 54 days before hitting the court for the first time since the injury against the Trojans.

While his shot may have looked a little rusty – Crook went 0-of-7 from the field and was held to no points – he made up for it with his control over the offense. He had a team-leading six assists and helped WKU record more assists than turnovers for the first time in nine games.

Coach Ray Harper said the impact Crook has on the team goes beyond the stat sheet, though. He said the point guard brings energy and leadership to the WKU (12-11, 6-6 Sun Belt Conference).

“He’s that leader – the guy that can rally the troops when things are not going well,” Harper said after the win over Troy. “I thought that was one of the things he was doing better than most point guards that I’ve coached in my career up until the injury.”

The Toppers struggled without Crook, the only true point guard on the WKU roster. After an 8-2 start, the Toppers went 3-9 in the 12 games without him.

Sophomore guard Kevin Kaspar and junior guard Brandon Harris ran the point in Crook’s absence.

While he was disappointed to miss time, Crook said his absence may have actually made the Toppers better going forward.

“I won’t be here next year, so there’s going to be times when they’re going to be faced with situations like that, and they’re going to have to find a way to dig it out,” he said. “I give them a lot of credit.”

The Toppers won in Crook’s return and they’ll look to keep that momentum going Thursday against North Texas (8-16, 3-10 SBC).

UNT is also working through a slump – the Mean Green have lost four games in a row and have gone 3-10 in their last 13 games.

They certainly have the talent to take Thursday’ game though. UNT sophomore forward Tony Mitchell averages 13.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and is projected to be a first round draft pick in this year’s NBA draft.

Sophomore forward George Fant said unT’s potential will keep the Toppers on their toes in practice this week.

“Nobody can look North Texas off,” Fant said. “They’re full of talent and you can’t look them off – they can explode at any minute.”