Crutchfield in national spotlight again for impact on NBA Eastern Conference Finals

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Fans of college basketball in West Virginia are well-acquainted with Jim Crutchfield’s unique style of play and tremendous run of success at West Liberty University. The Clarksburg native posted a 359-61 record in 17 seasons on the hilltop, leading WLU to a Division II title game and 45 weeks atop the national polls.

Crutchfield’s resume if so impressive that the two guys leading teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals reached out to him for advice and insight. Ben Cohen of the Wall Street Journal chronicled the conversations between Crutchfield and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics and Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat. Crutchfield picked up the rest of the story on Tuesday’s edition of the Citynet Statewide Sportsline.

“To meet Erik Spoelstra and Brad Stevens, to sit down and talk basketball with them, I really do think these two guys are really going to end up being the John Wooden’s of their generation,” Crutchfield said.

“They are both similar personalities. They are both guys without egos, guys who are students of the game. And I think they are good leaders. Both of them have respect of their players and the community.”

Crutchfield’s playbook calls for the use of five skilled players spreading the floor. The pace is equally uptempo on offense and defense. At West Liberty, his Hilltoppers frequently led all of Division II in points per game and often by wide margins.

His style of play and success have followed him to Nova Southeastern University in Florida. After inheriting a 6-20 team, Crutchfield has posted a 69-20 mark in three seasons. NSU was a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Regionals this March, before the tournament was halted by the pandemic.

In many ways, Crutchfield’s system mirrors what many teams in the NBA are evolving into.

“There was a time ‘small ball’ hit the NBA about six years ago with Steph Curry and (Golden State). I think the game has changed a little bit where five guys are skilled on the floor. I am sure it will swing back when the next big post man like Shaq will come in and say there are no big guys that can dominate the rim like I can. For right now, it seems to be going in the same direction to the style of game I coached at West Liberty and am trying to coach down here at Nova Southeastern.

“I have always had a high-efficiency team even though we are shooting a lot of 3’s, scoring a lot of points and less turnovers than our opponents. It correlates to winning. It is a different type of uptempo game. It is not run-and-gun at all.”

Crutchfield made his first-ever trip to Boston and spent a weekend speaking with Stevens.

“Some people were curious. They wanted to see what this guy was doing. I am flattered. I am looking at two guys who don’t look at somebody like he is a Division II coach, or maybe he doesn’t know as much as a Division I coach. These guys are not of that mentality.

“In five hours you can cover a lot of ground when it comes to basketball. We talked about everything from offense, defense, drills, everything we do.”

The Heat shocked top-seeded Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference semifinals and they knocked off Boston in Game 1 of the finals on Tuesday. Miami missed the playoffs last season.

“Coach Spoelstra, for his standards, had a disappointing season. They didn’t make the playoffs that year and I caught him in a mode where he was saying I am changing some things. I think the direction he was going probably coincided with some of the things we do here. I don’t think I told him anything he didn’t know. It just kind of kept him going in the same direction.”

Consistently humble about his success, Crutchfield is modest about any potential impact his conversations may have had on the fortunes for the Heat and the Celtics this season. Undoubtedly, Crutchfield’s players will recognize the company he keeps.

“If nothing else, I think it helps in the world of recruiting. I think it helps a little bit in credibility and coaching. So when I say something that might be outside the box, they are more likely to buy in.”

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