Hollister High sophomore Chandler Crutcher’s favorite basketball players are Russell Westbrook and the late Kobe Bryant.
That’s quite interesting given the fact that the two NBA all-time greats have been criticized for playing out of control and being ball hogs on occasion. Crutcher? No one is going to accuse him of such a thing because he’s a pass-first player a la LeBron James and Magic Johnson.
However, Bryant and Westbrook will go down as players who constantly attacked the rim and were tremendous competitors. Crutcher admires those qualities and also Bryant and Westbrook’s tenacity and killer instinct.
“No matter how good or bad they’re playing, they still have that drive,” Crutcher said moments after the Haybalers’ 55-47 loss to Milpitas High on Dec. 20. “It’s how they play and how driven they are that I like about them.”
Crutcher had a team-high 19 points in the loss, which dropped Hollister’s record to 4-3. Hollister trailed by as many as 22 points before outscoring Milpitas 19-8 in the fourth quarter to make the score respectable in the end.
The final eight minutes was by far the best quarter the Balers played in the game, so they’re looking to repeat that execution and carry it going forward, starting with the Rancho San Juan tournament on Dec. 28.
It’s worth noting that the Balers played Milpitas without two starters in Dominic Price (injury) and Chase Conley (sickness).
“That’s why I’m really proud of our effort,” Balers coach David Kaplansky said. “I mean, just an inspiring fourth quarter. Those are the things we need to continue to build upon.”
Hollister also received flashes of solid play from Arnulfo Abonce and Anthony Felix, who combined for 17 points. Senior center Jaiden Prado was limited to a season-low four points but has been tremendously consistent all season in his scoring, rebounding and defense.
The Balers went from man to man to a couple of different zone defenses in the second half, and their intensity and improved execution nearly brought them all the way back. Crutcher’s spinning jumper in the lane got Hollister to within eight points, 53-45, with 1 minute, 37 seconds remaining.
But that’s as close as the Balers would get. They had a golden opportunity on their next couple of possessions, but missed three shots in the final 90 seconds which prevented them from closing the gap further.
“Switching to that 2-2-1 zone [in the fourth quarter], I was just trying to find life,” Kaplansky said. “Trying to get stops, trying to slow Milpitas down. And our kids did a nice job of adjusting to it. I was really proud to coach the guys tonight. We could’ve laid over after the third, but they showed a lot of character especially for a young team.”
Kaplansky is noticeably more positive, upbeat and encouraging than in his first go-around coaching the boys basketball team, a highly successful run that culminated after the 2013-2014 season. The veteran coach noted it’s for a good reason, as this team is relatively young at the varsity level and needs to be built up.
“We’re a process team right now and the kids are responding well,” he said. “Their character, they listen, the way I’m coaching them is completely different than how I coached from when we played from the top. I’m teaching more, directing more, trying to be more positive and trying to guide them right now. Not so much wins and losses but we’re looking for growth, and I thought we showed a lot of growth in the fourth quarter.”
Kaplansky was particularly proud of Crutcher’s effort and performance. At 5-foot-7, Crutcher is always one of the smallest players when he takes the court. However, Crutcher’s deft ball-handling, quickness and basketball IQ allows him to get to his spots and gain separation to get shots over taller defenders, whether it’s on dribble-drives or pull-up jumpers.
Crutcher was at his best late, as 10 of his 19 points came in the fourth quarter alone.
“Chandler has got to go the full 32 minutes because we have no backup point guard,” Kaplansky said. “He finished the game off brilliantly. I thought he defended well, too. And when we needed it most, he came alive offensively. He was attacking the gaps and when he was getting in the gaps, he was making plays. Credit to him for finishing strong and really giving us life on offense.”
Crutcher has been playing basketball since he was 6 years old. He was born in Memphis and lived there until his family moved to San Jose around eight years ago before settling in Hollister before the start of his freshman year.
He credits his dad, Toney, for helping him develop the necessary skills to thrive on the court. Chandler plays for the AAU San Jose Dubs, which Toney coaches. Chandler said his dad has always emphasized playing the sport to do good, on and off the court.
“He’s been a good coach to me, giving me tips and showing me the way,” Chandler said. “If I want to take it DI, DII, DIII, it doesn’t matter. But going to college, getting your degree, finding a job to support a family, take care of yourself.”