Thursday, September 16, 2021

How Janai Crooms is making an impact for Michigan State already

February 11, 2021
<p>Junior guard Janai Crooms and sophomore guard Alyza Winston walk down the court during the Spartans&#x27; 68-64 loss to Nebraska on Jan. 10.</p>

Junior guard Janai Crooms and sophomore guard Alyza Winston walk down the court during the Spartans' 68-64 loss to Nebraska on Jan. 10.

Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

In crunch time, you always need your superstars to play at the highest level.

However, you also need someone who isn’t afraid to do the hard work on the basketball court.

Down one late in the fourth against Northwestern, Michigan State needed a stop and they got one from Janai Crooms as she flashed into a passing lane, snatched the ball and drew a foul to get to the line to tie it up and give her team a chance.

“I just love hyping my teammates up,” Crooms said. “That really gets them going and gets the whole team going, especially the bench. Just trying to get everyone on the same page and just bring the energy, that’s all that really matters. Especially on defense, I feel like that gets us going where we’re all getting locked down, all clapping (and) all cheering each other on.”

Despite the loss, the Spartans showed a lot of grit as they came back and took the lead, despite being down 21 at one point in the first half. Crooms spearheaded that effort as she came out on the court and played the role of the Energizer Bunny in the second half to get her team going.

“That’s just my personality, that’s just me, that’s how I am 24/7, especially when I’m around my teammates,” Crooms said. “I just love being around them, I feel like they feed off me and I feed off of them. I just really love being around them. I just feel like we have really great energy when we’re around each other.”

That energy isn’t a one-time thing either as that energy she brings comes on a daily basis, like against Illinois when she yelled for her teammate Nia Clouden who Crooms notoriously calls “GOAT” and rocked the baby Russell Westbrook style in celebration of Clouden completing the and-one bucket.

“We need her and her energy,” head coach Suzy Merchant said. “She brings it like that every day, even when it’s practice, shootaround, she’s like the loudest kid out there. She’s fully engaged in what’s going on. I really do feel like she’s a really big part of our ability to progressively get better, and it’s just fun to see her get more comfortable out there.”

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Crooms came to Michigan State as a transfer from Big Ten rival Ohio State and immediately became a big-time contributor for her team and has become a regular in the starting lineup since the team returned to play after a two-week pause due to COVID-19.

“I feel like I’m fitting in really well,” Crooms said. “I feel like my teammates and my coaches really accepted me and I feel like I’ve found out my role pretty soon (by) just giving energy, being the point guard and being very vocal.”

It hasn’t been easy for Crooms in her time at Michigan State as she battled a foot injury to begin the year. Despite that, Crooms is beginning to play some of the best basketball she has played since arriving in East Lansing.

“It was a really a struggle to get back after my foot injury because a foot injury is really tough to come back with,” Crooms said. “As the season went on, I was conditioning every day, getting better with my teammates and the strength and conditioning coach and just trying to get back to the shape where I was before. I’m feeling much better.”

One of the issues with the team early on was getting offensive production from the frontcourt.

Before Crooms entered the starting lineup and started receiving more minutes, Alisia Smith and Taiyier Parks were averaging 7.3 and 7.8 points per game respectively.

Since Crooms was inserted into the starting lineup, Smith is averaging 11.4 points per game, and Parks, even though she is now coming off the bench since Crooms has begun to start, is now averaging 8.2 points per game.

It’s not a coincidence.

“She’s by far our best post-entry passer on the team,” Merchant said. “She reads skips, she’s playing extremely well, she was great defensively tonight. She did everything that I felt like she could within her abilities and did a great job of getting the ball inside. A lot of Tai’s (Parks) and Smitty’s (Smith) scores came from Janai understanding, ‘Hey, we gotta get the ball inside.’ She did a good job of getting it to them when they needed, where they needed it so that they could make an easy move.”

With Northwestern’s limited size, Crooms fed the post down low and that was the difference-maker in the second half.

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“Coming out in the third quarter I wanted to get our team going, bring the energy, get the ball into the post, move the ball and just try and get the offense going,” Crooms said. “I feel like I slowed us down in the first half, but as the second half came and third quarter came we just had to turn it up a bit and I think that’s what got us going.”

The Spartans dropped to 10-5 on the year after that loss to Northwestern, and with time running short, Michigan State will need Crooms to continue to bring that toughness and energy she brings every day to reach their goals.

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