University of Washington

‘He just does him.’ Crisp shrugs off criticism, embraces role as UW’s point guard, emotional leader

University of Washington guard David Crisp (1) claps in celebration after the game. The Washington Huskies played the Utah Utes in a NCAA basketball game at Hec Edmundson Pavilion in Seattle, Wash., on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019.
University of Washington guard David Crisp (1) claps in celebration after the game. The Washington Huskies played the Utah Utes in a NCAA basketball game at Hec Edmundson Pavilion in Seattle, Wash., on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019.

When Mike Hopkins considers David Crisp’s career, he thinks of Kansas.

It’s not just the win he remembers. It’s not even Crisp’s dagger 3-pointer that sealed it, although that stands out, too.

What Washington’s head coach really thinks of, what lingers even a season later, is how well Crisp managed the game. He was efficient, finishing with 10 points on nine shots. He had seven assists. And while Crisp wasn’t the leading scorer — three Huskies finished with more points — the game belonged to him.

On that night, Crisp became a point guard.

Crisp will tell you as much, if you ask him about it. Fellow senior Dominic Green will, too. Heading into that game, Kansas was ranked No. 2 in the country. The Huskies, who had a 6-2 record at the time, understood the kind of opportunity they had. Crisp just wanted to make sure they didn’t waste it.

“I saw that I kept getting into the lanes and they were all collapsing in on me and I just kept finding guys,” Crisp said. “And we were winning so I was like, I’m just going to keep doing that, keep doing that.

“There’s no better feeling than winning, especially games like that. Those are games you remember for the rest of your life. Those are games that people, fans are going to remember for the rest of their lives.”

During the 74-65 win, Crisp accepted two distinct yet connected roles for UW: Point guard … and leader.

“I tried to do the best I could from then on,” he said.

When Hopkins talked to Crisp on the phone soon after his hiring, he told the then-shooting guard that he wanted him to switch positions. For the Huskies to be successful, Hopkins said then, Crisp needed to lead.

It only took one conversation for Crisp to feel Hopkins’ support, and that unwavering faith quickly erased any of Crisp’s hesitation.

“Whenever people were getting on me, all the critics and everything, Hop always had my back,” Crisp said. “And when you got a guy like that that has your back, you’re fearless. I just came to work everyday, came to work to get better.”

Hopkins often defended Crisp from criticism, whether it was for his shooting struggles, aggressive play or occasionally erratic ball-handling. Whatever the grievance, Crisp has probably heard it. His teammates have, too.

“It’s no secret that people love to say mean things about Dave,” said senior guard Matisse Thybulle. “They love to hate him and he handles it great. I’ve been around him so much and you never really see it keep him down. He’s able to brush it off.

“I think that goes back to the confidence. He stays true to himself and he knows that he can control what he can control. He just continues to get better.”

Countless times this season, Crisp has stressed the importance of remaining level-headed. That was true when he was struggling. It remains true now that he’s averaging 12.9 points and and shooting 42.7 percent from the field, including 38.7 percent from the 3-point line.

Last year, those numbers were down. He shot 38 percent from the field and just 28.6 percent from beyond the arc. Crisp could feel something was off, so he watched film dating as far back as high school and spent hours in the gym getting the elevation back in his shot.

“He’s had to deal with a lot,” Green said. “People have said a lot of mean things about him, a lot of things that shouldn’t be said about somebody especially if you’re under the fan base of UW. I don’t think you should talk about a player the way people do.

“The way that he’s bounced back and the hard work that he’s put in really shows that he’s proven all the haters wrong. No matter what they all say about him, no matter all the hate that’s thrown his way, he just does him. He just makes sure that he comes and gets his work done.”

Crisp has reached double figures in all but two Pac-12 games this season. In UW’s first three conference games, he shot 12-of-18 from the 3-point line. He tried to single-handedly will them to victory in the loss to Cal, scoring a career-high 32 points. And in the most recent win over Oregon State, he shot 7-of-9 from the field and finished with 22 points, including a pivotal 3-pointer in overtime.

At least one person in Crisp’s life isn’t surprised at how well he’s performed this season. That’s because Rainer Beach High School coach Mike Bethea has seen it before, back when Crisp was a senior in high school.

“I knew it was coming,” Bethea said. “It’s just like that storm on the horizon. You know it’s coming you just don’t know when it’s going to hit. Unfortunately for a lot of Pac-12 teams, it hit his senior year.”

Bethea said Crisp was likely the MVP of the 2013-14 Rainer Beach team that won the state title and was ranked No. 2 in the country. In high school, Bethea said, Crisp “would make a six-point lead a 20-point lead in a matter of minutes.”

That’s the player that’s been on the floor for the Huskies this season, especially during conference play. In Pac-12 games, Crisp is averaging 15.5 points per game and shooting 44.8 percent from the 3-point line.

Bethea said the difference is clear: Confidence.

“Guys that stay three to four years, kind of get … stuck in a box or a hole,” Bethea said. “What I’ve seen with David, David just kind of flourished over those four years. It’s been such a progression for him, a steady progression. To see him hit his peak at the right time senior year, I’m just so happy.”

Part of that confidence stems from Crisp’s increased comfort-level running the point. He was never frustrated about making the switch, and he’s not one to back away from a challenge. The most difficult part, he said, was just learning how to strike a balance.

Crisp wants to score. He also wants to set up his teammates. Making the right decisions, he said, required letting the game come to him. Once he did that, things started to get easier. He found a way to make the position his own.

In previous seasons, Crisp would get past his defender and immediately look for an opportunity to score. Now, he takes everything else in first. The court has opened up, and he’s much more likely to dish the ball off or kick it out.

That was never more evident than Wednesday’s game against Stanford. Crisp made all four of his shots in the first half. He didn’t force shots; instead, he picked his moments. Crisp took just five more shots in the second half, finishing 7-of-9 for 22 points. He also had three assists.

“Just understanding how to control the tempo,” he said, “just understanding how bad shots can be contagious and bad shots lead to runout for the other team and give them points.

“That’s why we were so good in the Kansas game. We took great shots and we got back and set up our defense. Whenever you do that, you can put yourself in a good chance to win.”

Crisp’s true impact can’t be quantified by statistics, even if he’s the first player in UW history with at least 1,000 points, 300 assists, 200 3-pointers and 100 steals. Mostly, he’s Huskies’ unquestioned emotional leader. Hopkins has often called him the team’s heart and soul. Green said he’s the spark plug.

He had that quality in high school, too. It was a joy to coach him, Bethea said, because he always had a smile on his face. His personality was so bright that even when Bethea was in a bad mood, he would quickly find himself grinning back.

Thybulle said Crisp is by far the goofiest guy he knows. But when he’s not pulling pranks to get laughs from his teammates, he’s swinging from the basket before games to pump them up or giving them a talk mid-game to calm them down.

“He’s also genuine and kind,” Thybulle said. “And if it’s a one-on-one conversation, he’s going to make you feel like you’re really important, which is awesome.”

Seeing him grow into a leadership role has been particularly gratifying for Bethea. When Crisp was in high school, Rainer Beach’s team was filled with strong personalities. Crisp didn’t necessarily take a backseat, Bethea said, but he was content to pick his moments and back up his teammates when necessary.

“Hop has allowed him to do is just grasp that full leadership role with the guys,” Bethea said. “He’s kind of like that guy that all the guys look to and stuff. They follow his lead. In order for guys to follow your lead, you have to set that example. He does that for them.”

Green agreed without a moment’s hesitation.

“If we see him going, it brings energy for us,” Green said. “It helps us get going. When he gets emotional, everybody else gets like that, too. We feed off of what he does.”

Entering his senior year, Crisp wanted to embrace everything: The highs, the lows, the praise, the critiques. There’s beauty in all of it, he said, and he just wanted to enjoy the ride.

On Friday afternoon, with his final home game just a day away, Crisp reflected on the ride as he sat in front of the media with his fellow seniors. But as they took turns answering questions, he remained with his head down, still and silent.

Finally, Crisp was asked for his thoughts. He blinked, cleared his throat. Quiet seconds ticked away as he struggled to get his emotions in check. When he spoke, his voice was low and halting.

“It’s been a long four years,” he said. “Coming to the end, it’s bittersweet like everybody says. I’m just ready for the game. I want to win, get this last win with my brothers. Just thankful for this whole ride.”

Lauren Kirschman is the UW Huskies beat writer for The News Tribune. She previously covered the Pittsburgh Steelers for A Pennsylvania native and a University of Pittsburgh graduate, she also covered college athletics for the Beaver County Times from 2012-2016.