Jan. 5, 2011
by Pete Spiewak '10
It wasn't going to be easy, but Justin Crosgile opted to play at Saint Joseph's anyway.
The 5-foot-11 guard knew that upon his arrival, the Hawks would be playing their first season since the graduation of 2009 Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Ahmad Nivins, the forward who supplied nearly 30% of the team's scoring as a senior, and guard Tasheed Carr - leaving the Hawks on the path down the road to an uncharacteristic 20-loss season, the first time that would happen under head coach Phil Martelli.
The Hawks were going to take their lumps, but Crosgile was on board, up for the challenge of helping build the Hawks back into a top team in the Atlantic 10. This was no surprise for those who knew Crosgile, since four years earlier, he had seemingly made the same choice.
When deciding on what high school he was going to attend, the native of Paterson, New Jersey, had plenty of options. There was, of course, Paterson Catholic, his hometown school, which produced former Villanova standout and NBA veteran Tim Thomas. There were other options, like St. Anthony (Jersey City), St. Benedict's (Newark), or St. Patrick's (Elizabeth) - three North Jersey basketball powerhouses that are not far from Paterson.
Crosgile did not end up at any of those schools. He chose DePaul Catholic, a school with a fraction of the basketball history of the alternatives that was located in nearby Wayne, New Jersey. Rather than surrounding himself with All-State teammates or playing under a coach that produces multiple Division I recruits per year, the crafty guard took his game to a place where he could make his own mark.
"I had to make a name for myself," said Crosgile, who was sometimes overshadowed in talent-rich Paterson by big-name recruits such as Tamir "Pop" Jackson (St. Benedict's/Rice) and Travon Woodall (St. Anthony's/Pittsburgh). "That was one of the reasons I chose to go to DePaul, because it was a good school, and it was also a school where I could put them on the map and make a name for myself."
He was able to do both. Prior to Crosgile's arrival, DePaul was nowhere on the New Jersey basketball radar. By his sophomore year, he was able to help bring home a county championship to the North Jersey school. On the personal side, he became one of the top scoring threats in New Jersey, accumulating 2,010 points in his career - the third-most in the history of Passaic County behind only John Gerdy (Passaic Valley), who played at Davidson, and Thomas, who attended Paterson Catholic and entered the NBA after one season at Villanova. More importantly, by the time his senior year rolled around, Crosgile had led the Spartans on a state tournament run that ended in a near upset of heavily-favored St. Peter's Prep, who featured a rising young forward, and current teammate of Crosgile, in Ronald Roberts, Jr.
And now, Saint Joseph's hopes that soon Crosgile can take them from a 20-loss team to a contender for the Atlantic 10 championship. However, this season has been a difficult one so far, both for the young Hawks, who start three freshmen, and for Crosgile.
"The season has been rough for me, and for the team as a whole," he said. "We're not where we want to be, and we're not where we should be."
Not only does Saint Joseph's find itself at 5-8, but Crosgile's season got off to a rocky start, as he saw both his minutes and production reduced early on, which he attributes to off-the-court mistakes, like missing the team bus, that landed him in trouble with the coaching staff. But the sophomore knew he was the only person to blame, holding himself accountable for his actions.
"I dug myself a hole, there was no one else to blame," admitted Crosgile. "And nobody could help the situation but me."
The Paterson native has since dug himself out of that hole, displaying more maturity off the court, while playing some of the best basketball of his career on the court. Over the last four contests, Crosgile has averaged just under 12 points per game, thanks in large part to his hot three-point shooting. During that stretch, he's converted over 50% of his tries from downtown, shooting 11-of-20. Crosgile's best game came in a win against Holy Cross on December 28, when he scored a career-best 19 points.
After spending most of his freshman campaign as a starter, Crosgile has had to adjust to a new role, coming off the bench in his second season.
"It definitely is harder to come off the bench," said the point guard, who is averaging 5.9 points per game. "But I told [Coach Martelli] before the season, `I don't care about starting, I just want to win.'"
One of the team's starting guards, 5-foot-11 160-pound sophomore Carl "Tay" Jones is excelling in Martelli's offense, scoring 17.9 points per game this season. Some naysayers have held the belief that the two guards were too similar and too small to play side-by-side. But during Crosgile's recent emergence, the two have flourished together on the court. Each guard has scored in double digits in three out of the past four games, with Crosgile averaging over 20 minutes a game, and Jones playing at least 30 minutes in each contest.
Crosgile doesn't believe the size of a backcourt of him and Jones puts the team at a disadvantage. Besides, while they are similar in size, Crosgile says their games are very different.
"We're two different types of players," said Crosgile. "When I get in the game, it's more like `Justin, run the offense, get everybody where they're supposed to be.' But with Tay, he's more of guy that sparks us. We tell him `We need a bucket here,' so we're two different players."
As the Hawks enter Atlantic 10 play, Crosgile envisions a strong finish to the season, and an even brighter future down the line.
"I see great things happening with this team," said Crosgile, who is one of the team's more experienced players as a sophomore; just one upperclassman averages over 10 minutes per game, while five freshmen contribute regularly. "I see us having a good finish to this year, and also having a great future here. We're just young right now, and just getting better and better."
Prior to the season, Martelli acknowledged that Saint Joseph's was in danger of becoming irrelevant, and he vowed to not let that happen.
Perhaps he's looking for a player to get Saint Joseph's back on the map.
Perhaps that's Justin Crosgile.