Last month, over the Labor Day holiday, Nova Southeastern University men’s basketball coach Jim Crutchfield found himself in Boston as a guest speaker invited by Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
Earlier this year, Crutchfield got a spring-time call from another NBA coach, the Heat’s Erik Spoelstra, who came to the NSU campus to talk hoops.
Yes, it’s been quite a summer for the NSU Sharks.
But that’s what happens when you reach the NCAA Division II Elite Eight for the first time in program history, and you do it in just the second year under Crutchfield.
NSU, which finished 6-20 the season before Crutchfield arrived, went 29-4 in 2018-2019, and that attracted NBA attention.
“Those [NBA] guys will talk to anyone they think they can learn from,” said Dave Halberstam, who was the Heat radio voice for six years and also called about 20 NSU games last season. “That ‘Spo’ would visit [Crutchfield] speaks volumes. I’m sure ‘Spo’ was seeking to talk basketball with a coach whose kids play hard-nosed defense.”
Crutchfield said he didn’t know Stevens before he was offered the invitation to Boston. Crutchfield also didn’t know Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga, son of Miami Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga.
“Jay and I had some good talks about getting players to play with intensity,” Crutchfield said. “In both cases [Spoelstra and Stevens], it was a great opportunity to confirm some of the thoughts I already had about basketball but also consider some new ones.”
Earlier this past summer, Crutchfield went on “The Basketball Podcast”, with Chris Oliver.
“I was thinking, ‘Who in the world is going to listen to this podcast?’” Crutchfield said. “But Coach Stevens — who is a very open-minded guy — said he heard me on that podcast.”
After all that fun this summer, NSU’s 2019-2020 season will start with a home game on Nov. 13 against the College of Staten Island. The Sharks will have to replace star point guard David Dennis, who is now playing pro ball and doing well in Germany.
In addition, Crutchfield is worried about his players maintaining their edge after last season’s success.
Street & Smith’s magazine has ranked the Sharks No. 2 in the nation, trailing only defending national champion Northwest Missouri State, which also won the title in 2017.
“I want our players to be confident, but if you get overconfident, you lose that edge,” Crutchfield said. “It’s difficult. I faced it [Monday] in practice. It’s not horrible [his team’s demeanor], but I can feel it a little bit, and I’m fighting that battle.”
While Crutchfield tries to stave off complacency, he happily accepts the good things that come with the added notoriety, which includes recruiting benefits.
“We have six new recruits this year,” Crutchfield said, “and, on at least four of them, I don’t know if we get them if not for our success last season.”
Perhaps the most interesting case would be 6-0 junior point guard Matt Weir, who is from Ohio. When Crutchfield coached at West Liberty, he tried to sign Weir but got denied when the player chose to go to a prep school. When Crutchfield landed at NSU, he again recruited Weir, who signed to play Division I ball for Purdue-Fort Wayne.
Finally, after NSU’s run to the Elite Eight, it was Weir who called Crutchfield, looking to transfer.
“Matt was probably one of the top 20 three-point shooters in the nation, but his mentality is as a point guard,” Crutchfield said. “They were playing him at two-guard, which is why he wanted to come here. I’ve known him since high school, and he knows what I’m about.”
And what Crutchfield is about is winning — just ask Erik Spoelstra and Brad Stevens.