Crutchfield excited to get to work

BELLAIRE – It’s gotten to the point with West Liberty basketball where many of Hilltoppers’ fans are just starting to take the success for granted and it’s become expected.

Jim Crutchfield has a love-hate relationship with that rationale.

Yes, the Hilltoppers have won four consecutive Atlantic Regional titles and last March advanced to the Division II National Championship Game before falling, 84-77, to Central Missouri.

“Winning the (national championship) game is probably a 50-50 scenario, but getting to the game is unbelievably hard when you have 300 teams in the country, 64 in the tournament and every team is really good,” Crutchfield said shortly after addressing some 80 campers, ranging from grades 1-8 at the St. John Central Lady Irish Basketball Camp. “Getting these is 10 times harder than actually winning the championship game.”

It’s been almost four months since the Hilltoppers lost to Central Missouri. The memories are still obviously strong, but the disappointment is easing.

Crutchfield wouldn’t go as far as to say he’s gotten over it, but he’s starting to move past it.

And he started to do so by watching his team, which is going to have no fewer than nine more faces, work out over the weekend.

“We’ve not had that many new guys since my first year and it really has me even excited and axious for the season,” Crutchfield said. “Obviously, there’s a greater challenge to see if we can do some of the things we’ve done with so little experience coming back.”

He quickly realized that plenty of work is ahead if the Hilltoppers are going to continue their run, which has included four consecutive trips to the Division II National Tournament.

“I don’t think I’ve been as excited for an upcoming season as I am,” Crutchfield said. “It’s not because I think we’re going to be really good, but it’s a different challenge.”

While fans and others may always want to compare teams and talk about past successes, Crutchfield tries extremely hard to avoid that.

“We don’t bring things about past teams up,” Crutchfield said. “We treat it, like it is, as a fresh season even no matter what happened – good or bad. What happened last year won’t help us win games this year.”

Though he employs a ‘system’ that’s worked incredibly well during his tenure with the Hilltoppers, Crutchfield doesn’t speak at clinics too often. Not because he doesn’t want to give away any secrets or anything. But, more so, because he’s that humble.

“I don’t want to give an impression that I am more than anyone else,” Crutchfield said. “I do like talking to kids and working camps. Running the West Liberty basketball camps is actually how I got started into the college coaching business.”

Crutchfield spoke to the group at St. John Central for nearly a half hour and mixed in things about being a better listener along with some of the basketball techniques that do work for him and his program.

“I feel comfortable in this element,” Crutchfield said. “If there’s a message I’d like to send (to the kids), it’s about being someone who’s fun to play basketball with. I see kids now, that I recruit, that have too much ego and aren’t into the whole team thing. You can make friends for life in this sport, and that’s what I want to pass along.”