Ivory Crawford is competitive in every sense of the word.
During Big Ten Media Day in October, Crawford looked around and joked that she wanted to go recruit more reporters to her table because reporters crowding around other tables meant competition for her.
Going into her senior season, all Crawford wants to do is compete and win.
Last season, Crawford was pressured not to only be the Illinois women’s basketball team’s leading scorer, but also one of its leaders in rebounding and assists. With a bolstered Illini roster, Crawford will have more of a chance to play within herself this season and expand on her own game.
“[Our depth] is going to make a huge difference for [Crawford], she is going to feel like she can just do what she has to do,” head coach Matt Bollant said. “I think Ivory sometimes wants to win so bad that she’ll sometimes try to do too much.”
Bollant is known for having some of the toughest, most intense practices of any team in the country. The practice style is something Bollant and his staff brought with them from Wisconsin-Green Bay, and to no surprise, Crawford is a fan.
“We’ve seen some of the Big Ten’s practices and it’s not like ours. It’s never game-like. We’re always competing like we’re losing,” said Crawford.
Crawford isn’t the only returning Illini who felt pressure to play outside of her game last season. Sophomore forward Jacqui Grant was the only true post player the program had last year. Although it’s well within her skill set to be one of the top rebounders on a team, being the only option is never easy. The addition of true center Chatrice White will allow Grant to move back to the four spot, something she’s more comfortable with.
“Certainly being able to play the four position is going to help her a great deal,” Bollant said. “She can really step out and shoot it. She’s great feeding the post.”
With so many new faces on the team between recruits and transfers, returners like Crawford and Grant will be expected to lead both on and off the court.
The duty of leadership is expected to fall mostly on the competition-driven Crawford, who is one of four returning seniors.
“First you have to look at yourself and prove what you can do best, so you can get that respect and so you can get the responses you need,” Crawford said.
When talking to Crawford, the conversation always makes its way back to winning. Even when personal accolades are brought up, Crawford just wants those accomplishments to go toward team success.
Crawford reached 1,000 career points in the Big Ten tournament matchup with Iowa, which made her the 27th player in the program’s history to reach the feat. She was only the 15th of those players to reach the milestone with eligibility still remaining.
“I didn’t even know I passed 1,000 points. When they said it, it threw me off,”Crawford said, laughing. “I feel like that really doesn’t mean anything to me, points-wise, I just want to get the win.”
As the basketball season approaches, so too is the beginning of Crawford’s final chapter in Champaign.
“By the end of the season, hopefully my dreams will come true of going pro by doing what I have to do,” Crawford said. “But first things first, just taking care of the team and looking at the little things before the big things.”