AUGUSTA — Jason Coleman, the men’s basketball coach at the University of Maine at Augusta, approached Eric Crawford with the news before the first game of the season. Coleman was unsure of how the recently anointed team captain would react.

“Eric,” said the first-year coach, “I’m going to be bringing you off the bench.”

“My family’s life changed because my dad came off the bench,” Crawford responded, in reference to his father, Jamal Crawford, and his three NBA Sixth Man of the Year awards.

Basketball runs through Eric Crawford’s bloodlines, but his hoops journey to Maine is uniquely his own.

The son of a 20-year NBA veteran, Crawford has bounced from small college to small college. He’s comfortable in central Maine, even though this was never the plan.

“It was the most impulsive decision I ever made in my life,” Crawford said following a late-season practice at the Augusta Armory. “I moved to Maine to play basketball.”

Crawford, 22, recently finished his third year of college basketball, his first with UMaine-Augusta. The 6-foot-4 guard spent the previous two years at different schools, first at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, and then the University of Maine at Machias.

His father is a free agent looking for another NBA contract. Jamal Crawford, 40, played one game last season with the Brooklyn Nets after playing 64 games for the Phoenix Suns in 2018-19. In more than two decades, Crawford has played in 1,327 regular-season games and 74 more in the NBA playoffs.

He said Eric’s experience in Maine “has been good” for the oldest of six siblings.

“Being out of his comfort zone, it’s forced him to mature and grow,” Jamal Crawford said. “I think that’s something that will help now, and the future.”

Eric Crawford also credits his maternal grandfather, James Hampton, as a basketball influence.

Eric Crawford goes up for a dunk during a University of Maine-Augusta men’s basketball practice on March 11 at the Augusta Armory. Crawford is the son of NBA veteran Jamal Crawford. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Hampton, a fixture on the Seattle basketball scene, trained Jamal Crawford when he was in high school. Eric’s mother, Amber Hampton, “was a pretty outstanding” basketball player herself in high school,” Hampton said.

Before Eric moved to Atlanta from South Seattle, Washington – in middle school while Jamal Crawford played for the Hawks – he saw his grandfather almost every day. Eric lived with his grandparents for a year, and they keep in touch a few times a month. Hampton watches all of his games and said he’s seen Eric grow on and off the court.

“I don’t know anything about Maine, but I think it’s a good experience for (Eric),” Hampton said. “Eric’s way more mature now.”

It took some time to get used to, but Eric Crawford is making the most of his experience some 3,200 miles from home.

“Maine is what you make it,” he said. “For me not being from here and being from a big city, it’s nice to get away where I can just focus on basketball and school. I’m really out here in the middle of nowhere. I have the bare necessities and I’m fine, I can make it work.”

‘WHERE IS MAINE?’

After a year at Division II Benedict College, Eric Crawford wanted out. A friend, Cordale Addison, had committed to play basketball at UMaine-Machias and asked Eric to join him.

“My first instinct was, ‘Where is Maine?’” Crawford said. “I had never heard of it a day in my life.”

Addison, like Crawford, looked for new basketball beginnings. One day during a workout, Addison asked Crawford to come with him to Maine. Addison felt there were too many distractions at Benedict College.

“I was telling him that you can change a lot about your life if you come to Maine,” said Addison, who took this school year off from college but will join Crawford at UMaine-Augusta next year. “You can concentrate on what you need to do.”

Given a map, Crawford couldn’t even point to Maine. He remembers flying into Bangor International Airport for the first time, shocked that there was just one baggage claim and no Uber drivers to get to Machias.

“I’m like, ‘Where am I?’” he said. “The first two weeks, it was rough. I had never felt homesick a day in my life, but I was homesick when I first got here.”

But quickly, Crawford turned the isolation into an exercise in mental fortitude. He intends on playing basketball professionally overseas, so the Maine experience will help him in the future.

“When I go overseas, it’s not going to be an adjustment at all,” Crawford said. “I lived in Maine.”

Crawford planned on returning to UMaine-Machias this year, but the school suspended its athletic program last summer.

“I spent the next month trying to help out students-athletes find different locations,” said former UMaine-Machias coach Troy Alley. “He had told me right along that he absolutely loved it here, it was a good experience and that he wanted to stay in Maine.”

Crawford caught wind of UMaine-Augusta through Alley and decided to give it a try.

Crawford did indeed begin the season coming off the bench for the Moose, who finished 3-3 in a truncated season, playing only other schools in Maine. He averaged 6.2 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.3 steals per game. UMaine-Augusta’s roster includes just one player from New England – Milford native and former Bangor standout Sam Martin.

Eric Crawford takes a shot during a University of Maine-Augusta practice. Crawford transferred to UMaine-Augusta after UMaine-Machias suspended its athletic programs. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The other players on the 2020-21 team hail from Puerto Rico, Serbia and all corners of the continental United States. They practiced at the Augusta Armory and played both of their home games at the school’s Bangor campus because the Augusta Civic Center is being used by the state legislature and as a vaccination site during the pandemic. Practice featured bent rims on wheeled in hoops, taped lines and a tiled floor on a court that’s not quite regulation size.

At one practice, wearing throwback Seattle Supersonics shorts, Crawford was constantly communicating on defense. When practice ended, Crawford was the only player clapping when they were called to half court.

“He plays with a lot of passion because he’s been in the gym his whole life,” said Coleman, the head coach. “His life has been based around being in the gym with his dad, seeing stuff regular people would never see.”

From across the country, watching games on a pixelated and broadcaster-less internet stream, Crawford’s grandfather noticed an increased hunger for success.

“I think sometimes when your father is an NBA player and your mom is successful in her field, I think sometimes kids get hungry later in life,” said Hampton, Eric’s grandfather. “I’m starting to see Eric go, ‘Wait a minute,  I want to play the part.’”

BLOCKING OUT THE NOISE 

Opponents and fans follow Crawford’s social media accounts, knowing he’s the son of an NBA star. Crawford receives messages that range from respectful to venomous.

“There’s obviously that elephant in the room, that my dad is in the league, so I have to grind like I want to take his job,” Crawford said. “That’s the pressure I put on myself.”

Crawford grew up in NBA locker rooms. As a 2-year-old, he stole the show on the stage of his father’s NBA draft night during an interview. He’s seen the luxury NBA lifestyle but embraces his current spot. Crawford remembers long gym sessions with his father with trash talk flowing. It was all love, father helping son develop a thick skin.

“I think my role in Eric’s basketball journey isn’t the big things,” Jamal Crawford said. “I think it’s the small details, the experience, the fact that he is a sponge, I’m able to answer any questions he may have. Whether that be different workouts, things to look for off a pick-and-roll, how to impact the game in various ways, or whatever he may ask.”

Being so far from home, Eric Crawford said he can tell who’s genuine and who isn’t because not everyone knows he’s an NBA player’s son.

“I go into a room as Eric and hoping for the best, hoping they like the genuine person I am,” he said.

University of Maine at Augusta men’s basketball player poses outside the Augusta Armory on March 11. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

He doesn’t flaunt being the son of an NBA player. Heck, Crawford doesn’t even have a car in Maine.

“He’s just one of the guys,” said Coleman, the coach.

Crawford and his pal, Addison, are already looking ahead to life after college. They have started a fledgling business venture called Laylow Sports Agency. Crawford hopes to represent his younger brothers, 12-year-old Chase Mohn and 11-year-old JJ Crawford, some day.

“That’s where I can use my dad as a resource, I know he can get me in those rooms,” said Crawford, who was wearing an all-black Laylow sweat suit when leaving that late-season practice. “I need to make sure I do my part, so when I’m in those rooms, I have a catalog to back up what I’m saying.”

Addison is also studying business. They intend on Laylow Sports Agency developing into a full-time endeavor. Like Crawford, Addison wants to play overseas after college.

“Eric’s a great business partner,” Addison said. “He does all the talking and I do the networking.”

They hope to represent a variety of basketball players, under-recruited guys like him but also high-level pros. Eric Crawford takes pride in running a Black-owned sports agency.

“Eric knows I’m gonna help him any way I can, but it will be him doing the work,” Jamal Crawford said. “I’m not going to just hand it to him, or tap into my resources until I knew he was serious, and with this, I have no doubt he is. So now it’s about learning as much as possible to help take it to the next level.”

Crawford plans on returning to the UMaine-Augusta program for another year. Although his family has never been to Maine, he envisions a senior day ceremony at the Augusta Civic Center packed with Crawfords.

“I expect it to be a pretty good showing,” he said.


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