It is hard for Jaye Crockett to believe when he glances around the floor at practice.
The Texas Tech junior forward is entering his fourth season in the program as its elder statesman, the lone holdover from the Pat Knight era. He’s already played for three head coaches and dozens of different teammates.
“It’s crazy,” Crockett said. “It was even crazy last year seeing that I was one of the older guys. Everybody was younger than me. It’s crazy how time moves. You’ve just got to realize you can’t waste any days because it moves really fast.”
When Tech opens its season at 8 p.m. today inside United Spirit Arena against Prairie View A&M, Crockett will be one of only four scholarship players who suited up for the Red Raiders last season. With 62 career games under his belt, he’s by far the most experienced.
The lessons he has learned in that stretch will make Crockett key for a young group that will be learning on the fly when the action tips off. It also puts him on the receiving end of some playful ribbing from teammates.
“He’s old,” sophomore Jordan Tolbert said of Crockett. “I call him Papa.”
Crockett, who redshirted during his first season on campus, would probably laugh at the burn. The Clovis, N.M., native is as easy going as the Guadalupe River, quick to crack a smile or a joke. But Crockett also has recognized his position as a veteran requires him to be a no-nonsense leader at times, both on and off the court.
He’s adapting to the role but concedes it isn’t always easy.
“It’s been pretty tough having to be a leader,” he said. “I’m used to listening to older guys tell me what I need to do, and now I’m in a position where I need to help the young players. It’s been a little tough, but I think I’m growing on it, and it’s been going pretty good.”
Tech coach Chris Walker said Crockett’s evolution into the role of floor commander has been “a work in progress,” but he has been pleased with the junior’s approach.
“He’s certainly not where I want him to be,” Walker said, “but he’s at the point where he’s doing a good job of every day just chipping away at becoming a good vocal leader. (His teammates) really like him. He’s a good kid. He does what he’s supposed to do in the classroom. He’s a guy that’s easy to pick out as a leader of the team.
“Going forward, adversity — our successes or failures — will decide who is the leader of the team. From that standpoint, I hope it is Jaye because of his personality. He’d be an easy guy to be in that role.”
While Crockett works to make gains in the leadership department, his teammates insist he has the respect necessary to demand more out of them in certain situations, to push them when they need pushing.
“He’s been great,” freshman point guard Josh Gray said. “When we come in with bad attitudes, he changes it. When we’re arguing, he stops it. So as far as him being the leader of the team, he’s been great.”
On the court, Crockett began playing his best basketball last season during Big 12 Conference play. He had four double-doubles during the league schedule and led Tech in scoring (10.7 points per game) and rebounding (6) during Big 12 action.
He did most of that damage as the team’s sixth man, a role Crockett said he has no problem with.
“I’m fine with coming off the bench,” he said. “I believe the coaching staff knows what it’s doing, and they are going to put the five out there they think is doing the best job. If it’s me coming off the bench, then I’ll play that role.”
Crockett also came off the bench in Tech’s exhibition win against Texas-Permian Basin last week, but Walker on Friday wouldn’t say definitively whether the junior will occupy the same role once the regular season begins. Walker did spell out the advantages Crockett provides as a sixth man.
“I don’t know for sure if he’s coming off the bench yet,” Walker said. “If he is, the reason he’s in that role, quite frankly, is that you need some experience coming off the bench. We’ve got a lot of young guys, and you don’t necessarily want freshmen coming off the bench or juco guys who haven’t played in a game of this magnitude. I think that Jaye Crockett provides some stability, as would (senior) Ty Nurse, coming off the bench.”
Whatever role he plays, Crockett said he is anxiously anticipating this season. After offseason surgery for a sports hernia, he said he feels as good as he has since arriving at Tech. If that means an even further improved game, Crockett could be a key cog in Tech’s hopes for a surprise season.
“I’m ready to win,” Crockett said. “We’re ready to have the community and the students come out and support us and have a winning program.”
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