The Crowder family history is one rich with great basketball talent and memories. After an illustrious career at Kentucky Wesleyan College and his professional days long in the past, Corey Crowder now gets to proudly watch his sone Jae compete in his second straight NBA Finals.
Flash back to the 1980s — there was a basketball game being played in Corey’s hometown of Carrollton, Georgia, between Georgia College and Kentucky Wesleyan. The principal at the time told Wesleyan’s staff to take a look at Corey, and the rest was history.
With multiple key players returning off of a recent national championship in 1987 right before he arrived on campus, Corey worked to be able to make an immediate impact.
“I was playing right away…” Corey said. “I don’t think they knew what they had in me. I think they took the word of (my principal), so I had to earn everything that I got once I got there and it all worked out for me.”
From there, Corey went on to be a key leader in four straight national championship appearances (1987-1991), winning one in 1990 for the Panthers while eventually becoming the all-time leading scorer with 2,282 career points.
Corey is thrilled to have the record, but knows that he was not have been able to achieve such a high level of success at Kentucky Wesleyan on his own.
“I’m very proud of that, but I could have never done anything as far as what’s on my resume without my teammates,” Corey said. “Each and every one of those guys I played with, I was fortunate enough that they helped me to accumulate any stats that I had. It wasn’t just an individual thing. Any accomplishment I got, I shared all of those with my teammates.”
After tackling the challenge of being one of the greatest Panthers to ever step foot on the hardwood and help the team keep its championship pedigree, Corey’s next challenge was making the next step.
At the time Wesleyan had about 800 students, and the ability for players to make it professionally after competing at such a small school was practically nonexistent. But that wasn’t going to stop Corey.
“In the basketball world, coming from a small school back in that era was something difficult to do,” Corey said. “But you know coach Chapman and our team and the school had prepared me for that on the basketball side as far as how to compete for a job and how to go in with a winning attitude. So I was ready, I just needed an opportunity.”
He played in the professional Canadian league first for three months, then was drafted in a United States summer league before eventually making his way to the Utah Jazz as free agent.
“Everything happened so fast,” Corey said. “I mean by the time you go to camp, you got practice, you don’t have time to even sit down and savor because you’re in that mode of there’s no going back.”
Corey didn’t realize just how achievable his NBA dream was until he finally got there and signed the dotted line, but he knew once he had arrived on Kentucky Wesleyan’s campus he was going to change his life for the better.
“After I signed my first contract,” Corey said. “Because you don’t know. All I know was, I grew up in the projects, I had a chance to go to college and then I was not going to squander this opportunity. I was going to do everything in my power to give myself the best shot at changing my life.”
Corey played until the age of 37 when he retired, then he turned his attention to being a father and helping raise Jae into the man and player he is today.
Jae started really falling in love with basketball after his first year of junior college, and a quick conversation in Corey’s office started the framework of a future NBA glue guy.
“I asked him to come to my office and we sat down and I asked him ‘If I gave you a blank white board and some paintbrushes for you to paint the life that you would like to have what would it look like?’ and he said I’d love to play basketball and I want to make money doing it,” Corey said.
With the connections that Corey had from his professional career, he told Jae that he could help him paint that perfect picture.
“I made a deal with him right there on the spot,” Corey said. “‘[I said] if you listen to me, I’ll get you there.’ Because I had scouts and I had coaches that I had played with or against that I could call and gather information from that I could go back and feed to him for what he needed to work on and that type of thing.”
So, the two got to work. There were countless hours spent in the gym and on the hardwood, polishing and perfecting a game for which the two shared so much passion.
There were numerous physical and mental challenges, but one of the biggest for Corey was understanding the difference between two major roles he had to play for Jae.
“The main thing that I had to learn was how to differentiate myself from being Corey Crowder the basketball superstar guy or whatever, to Corey Crowder the dad,” he said. “Because he needs me to be dad first, not the basketball guy. So I had to really learn how to communicate and give him the information without stunting his growth as a man.”
Corey feels as though by being able to do this, he and Jae’s relationship only grew stronger each and every day.
That has carried over throughout Jae’s career. Jae made a stop at Marquette, where he was an All-American before ultimately being drafted in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft before playing for a myriad of teams.
“Even to this day, I know some ex-players that have kids and they have driven those kids away from them, because they were all basketball, basketball, basketball,” Corey said. “And the kids started to question whether, ‘Does he love me for me as his son, or does he love me because I play basketball?’”
Jae’s latest success had him coming off an 2020 NBA Finals run with the Miami Heat before signing with a three-year contract with Phoenix in the offseason.
Now Crowder is back in the NBA Finals for the second straight year, helping the Suns enter tonight’s game with a 2-0 lead using his veteran leadership and toughness.
His leadership is crucial, as he was the only player between the Suns and their opponent the Milwaukee Bucks with any NBA Finals experience coming into the series.
Jae has solidified himself as one of the association’s premier glue guys that teams cherish, and Corey looks back to the conversation they had in his office as to what helped mold the player into the nine-year veteran he is today.
“At that moment, I told him if he could be this type of player, the player he is right now, every single team needs that guy,” Corey said. “If you don’t believe me… the only difference in the Miami Heat this year and last year, is they don’t have Jae Crowder with the toughness… Now look at the position that Phoenix is in now. I’m not going to say it’s all because of Jae, but I will say it’s a big part of it.”
Corey said on top of Jae’s on-court play, he respects his son for the time and effort off the court and what he does to make sure he is in peak form.
“I respect the man number one because he takes care of his body,” Corey said. “I can look at him and really say he’s a true professional not only just as a player on the court, but he does everything off the court necessary to put himself in a good position [to succeed].”
Jae has played for seven different teams over the course of his career and has picked the brains of many NBA players and coaches during his tenure with each organization.
“If you look at the teams he’s been on, he told me he’s able to take bits and pieces from the great players and great organizations that he’s been with,” Corey said. “For instance, the thing he learned from LeBron was LeBron spends a million dollars a year on his body. Now I’m not saying (Jae) spends a million dollars, but he knows the importance of taking care of his body.”
This work on his body allows Jae to play ample minutes, averaging around 32 per game in the playoffs so far this year.
In his most recent game, Jae played a total of 37 minutes, nabbing a double-double with 11 points on 4-8 shooting (3-5 from beyond the arc) and 10 rebounds.
With his playing days well behind him, Corey is thoroughly getting to enjoy watching Jae’s success not only as a fan, but as a dad hoping for his son to earn his first NBA championship.
“It’s freaking awesome,” Corey said. “I got two hats on when I’m watching a game. One, I’m a proud father and the other one is, I’m looking to see if he’s coming to me with something he’s dealing with. I gotta have information I can feed back to him to get him on the right track.”