Crook settling into leadership role

Sophomore guard Jamal Crook signals to his teammates on offense during WKU’s home game against North Texas in January. Crook has started the last seven games for WKU at point guard.

Zach Greenwell

After a win over Florida Gulf Coast last week, Jamal Crook was asked a question that made him let out a chuckle.

The sophomore guard was asked if there are any NBA point guards that he models his game after, and one quickly came to mind — Boston Celtics star Rajon Rondo.

“I kind of watch him a lot, so I guess I kind of act like him,” Crook said with a smile.

It should come as no surprise that Crook admires Rondo. The two both grew up in Louisville, and Crook admitted the way their wiry frames move around the basketball court is similar.

And in much the way Rondo seemed to emerge as Boston’s leader in a flash, Crook’s ascension has been just as fast with the Toppers.

“You’re seeing a total change in his play from even a month and a half ago,” Head Coach Ken McDonald said. “A lot of it is confidence with Jamal, and obviously experience plays a big role.”

Crook has started the last seven games for WKU (13-14, 7-7 Sun Belt Conference) after largely splitting the point guard duties with junior guard Kahlil McDonald before that.

But his breakout began while he was still coming off the bench, including a career-high nine assists against Troy on Jan. 22.

Crook has recorded 64 assists in WKU’s last 11 games, averaging nearly six per game.

“I’m just trying to help the team out, get guys open shots, create for others,” Crook said. “I’m just trying to be that point-guard floor general.”

Crook’s matched that nine-assist total two more times since then, including back-to-back games against North Texas and Florida Gulf Coast.

After the win over FGCU, sophomore guard Caden Dickerson largely credited Crook’s distribution of the basketball for the success of the offense.

“We shot the ball pretty well,” Dickerson said. “Jamal and Kahlil were able to dissect the defense and get us all shots, and that was what kind of kept us in the game.”

But Crook has also started to show that he can make shots just as easily as create them.

Although he’s averaging less than four points per game this season, he’s averaged eight in the Toppers’ last three contests.

His season high of nine points came last Thursday against Arkansas-Little Rock, where his layup at the buzzer propelled WKU to a 61-59 win.

Crook said he wasn’t used to being the one that comes through in the clutch, and he told WKU’s Big Red Radio after the game that he hadn’t hit a game-winning shot since the seventh grade.

“I was really cutting down to the basket, hoping they didn’t see me,” Crook said. “I was right there at the right time.”

And McDonald said he hopes the Toppers can continue to rely on Crook for the rest of the season.

After struggling with consistency at point guard all season, McDonald said Crook is one of the biggest reasons WKU has turned its season around.

“He’s handled it really well at a crucial time,” he said. “At a time when we were desperate for a guard to step up, he’s answered the bell.”