Archdeacon: Diamond in the rough hopes to sparkle for Dayton Flyers

Anthony Grant was looking for a diamond in the rough.

Jalen Crutcher was hoping to get some shiny earrings.

The two reached out to each other and both ended up getting what they wanted.

Late in the recruiting cycle, Grant got the point guard help he needed to fill out his Dayton Flyers roster and Crutcher now sports a pair of pea-sized, diamond-like adornments on his lobes.

A 6-foot-1 freshman from Ridgewood High School in Memphis, Crutcher is the first recruit for Grant, who took over the UD job in late March, a decision that brought him back to his alma mater and the team for which he was a standout in the mid-1980s.

Friday night, the pair debut for real when the Flyers host Ball State in the regular season opener at UD Arena.

But don’t look for Crutcher to be showing off his bling on Blackburn Court.

“Oh no!” Crutcher said shaking his head. “Coach Grant told us we can’t wear earrings in practice or in in games.”

It’s similar to the rule his parents had when he was growing up in East Memphis.

“My mom and dad said I couldn’t get my ears pierced as long as I was living at home,” he said with a grin.

“It’s the same rule I had for his older brother,” Greg Crutcher, Jalen’s dad, said by phone. “No earrings ‘til they’re out of this household.”

And so that first day in June that he moved onto the UD campus, Crutcher got his ears pierced.

His mom, Sheila, who along with Greg had brought him up here from Memphis, took him to do it.

“He wasn’t even 18 when he got on campus so I took him to Walmart and signed for him,” she said. “I knew he was going to get it done anyway, so I figured I’d go with him.”

She and her husband were amenable because they felt their son was making some other good choices — especially in picking UD.

After he had agreed to play for the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga following two years of recruitment by the Mocs, the deal suddenly fell through this spring and he was left scrambling.

Through some luck and some savvy work by the UD coaches, Crutcher came to visit Dayton in May and promptly signed.

When he and his family first visited, UD Arena was empty and in the throes of the first phase of its $72 million facelift.

“We saw films of what it was like on game night,” Sheila said.

But none of them knew exactly what to expect before last Saturday night when UD played an exhibition with NCAA Division II Ohio Dominican in front of a sellout crowd of 13,350.

“We were really overwhelmed,” said Shelia. “We had never experienced anything like that. Jalen had played in front of 1,000 people before but never 13,000. It was a great atmosphere.”

Her son agreed: “It was crazy. It was my first time playing in front of a crowd that big. I remember telling the team, it don’t even feel real.

“It feels like a movie.”

Knew about Flyers

Crutcher said he was in one of his high school classes late last March when he got a text from his mother:

“She said to call her as soon as possible.

“She told me Coach Mike McCall took the job at UMass. On Twitter, that’s how I found out he’d left Chattanooga.”

The Mocs had been the first school to offer him a scholarship, although he’d also visited Missouri State and had drawn interest from Cal State-Fullerton, Pacific and Murray State.

As McCall was leading the Mocs to a 29-6 record, a Southland Conference title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament last season, Shelia said she had asked him if he might be leaving for a better job.

“He told me he was never gonna leave,” she said.

Jalen said he eventually got “one text” from him telling him he was leaving:

“But no, he never did call me.”

And before?

“He used to talk to me about every day.”

Although new Mocs coach Lamont Paris wanted to keep him, Crutcher felt neither the connection nor the style of basketball would be the same. He announced on Twitter he was thinking of reclassifying to the class of 2018 and spending a season at a prep school.

In the meantime, he joined a new Memphis AAU team and soon after played in a big tournament in Atlanta.

There he said he was spotted by James Kane, the new UD assistant, who had come from Murray State, which had been recruiting him.

Dayton needed another point guard since recruit McKinley Wright had backed out of his commitment after Archie Miller took the coaching job at Indiana. And when Crutcher played well in Atlanta, Grant offered a scholarship.

Crutcher had some knowledge of the Flyers: “I remember they played in the Elite Eight in Memphis (in 2015).”

And his dad was familiar with UD, too. “I remember when Dayton used to play the University of Memphis back in the day,” he said of the span from 1954 to 1995 when the Flyers won 12 of 19 meetings.

On his way to Dayton for his visit, Crutcher said Florida Gulf Coast offered him a scholarship and he agreed to visit the school after he left UD.

But when he got to Dayton, which happened to be graduation weekend, he met Scoochie Smith and the other three celebrated seniors before they shed their caps and gowns and left town.

He, like his parents, was impressed not only by the school’s commitment to basketball, but the campus and especially Grant.

“One of the coaches at Chattanooga had been coached by Coach Grant at Florida,” Shelia said. “He told me how great a person Anthony Grant was, not just as a basketball coach, but as a person.”

Greg said they held the same opinion once they met the Flyers coach: “He’s a real genuine guy.”

Their son signed with UD before he left town.

On the way back home, DePaul messaged that it was offering him a scholarship. Sheila said they also heard from Alabama, Arkansas and even hometown Memphis.

“Memphis waited ‘til the last minute,” Greg said. “I think they lost one right out of their own backyard.”

Although last Saturday’s game was an exhibition against a Division II opponent, Crutcher showed well. He played 23 minutes off the bench, made two of five field-goal attempts for six points and had three rebounds and four assists.

‘A great choice’

Should Memphis be best known for its musicians or its athletes?

The question made Crutcher wrestle with his thoughts before finally answering “athletes.”

I told him I thought it was the musicians and went through a litany: Al Green, Isaac Hayes, Elvis Presley, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Booker T, Sam and Dave and on and on.

Although he said he had seen rappers like Yo Gotti and Young Dolph around town, Crutcher said he has been befriended by Penny Hardaway, the former Memphis State star and longtime NBA point guard.

They’ve worked out together and he said Hardaway just texted him again a couple of weeks ago to see how things were going for him at UD.

Sheila can answer that:

“I’m happy everything worked out like it did. I think it was a great choice. He’s so happy right now. He loves it. He loves the school. He loves everything about Dayton.”

… And that includes his new earrings.

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