DII basketball: How Jim Crutchfield and David Dennis are quietly turning around the Nova Southeastern Sharks
The Nova Southeastern men’s basketball program is having a historic start to the 2017-18 season. Out to its best start in program history, the Sharks also cracked a Top 25 ranking for the first time and set the mark for most points scored in a single-game with 122.
Seems like a good story, doesn’t it? That’s only the half of it.
Nova Southeastern finished 6-20 last season, last place in the Sunshine State Conference. They did a program 180 and brought in legendary DII basketball coach Jim Crutchfield from West Liberty. Crutchfield built West Liberty into a DII basketball powerhouse, going 359-61 in 14 years and accumulating a winning percentage that ranks him amongst Adolph Rupp, John Wooden and Mike Krzyzewski. That’s not bad company to have your name spoken.
But there’s more.
West Liberty was set for another big season. Currently a perfect 10-0 and the No. 7 team in DII, the Hilltoppers look like a force to be reckoned with once again. All that still wasn’t enough to keep David Dennis in West Virginia.
Instead, when Dennis found out his coach was leaving, so did the one time Mountain East Conference Freshman of the Year.
“He puts so much trust and faith in me,” Dennis said. “I really bought into what his style was. When he ended up leaving, I talked to my family about it and we all believed it was time to go. When he offered me a ride after I got my release it was almost a no brainer.
“Coming out here, trusting in what he teaches and brings to the table, well obviously his resume shows for it. Right now it’s looking like was a pretty good idea.”
Dennis has been instrumental in this Sharks’ turnaround. He is currently averaging 20.7 points per game and is second in DII with 8.4 assists per game while leading the division in steals (4.33 per game).
“I do whatever the team needs at the moment,” Dennis said. “Coming out of the blocks, I’m looking to keep everyone really involved, while I keep myself in the rhythm of the game. Just depending on what the team needs. If we need a big bucket, I have the confidence that I can get it for myself or create it for someone else to get an easy look. The key thing for me is making sure everybody is happy, keeping everyone in the game and making sure we get the win.”
But it’s his leadership and faith in Crutchfield’s system that has been the real key to the Nova Southeastern engine. Together, the two have changed the culture on the campus, converting really good student-athletes into winners.
“West Liberty played Nova last year,” Dennis said. “Playing against them you could tell they had really good individual talent. The system they played wasn’t really the best at the time. I knew when coach Crutchfield came here with the athletes and talent they had, and got them playing full court and in an up tempo, knowing the way I play the game, see the floor and help others, I knew I could be a really good fit. Playing with guys that want to win and were just waiting for someone to come in and show them how to win, I think coach and myself have done a really good job at that.
“There’s a buzz around the school that’s never been there, and it’s fun to be a part of. I know coach and I talk about it everyday, that’s what we came down here to do. This basketball part is really making it fun for me.”
As cool as the other side of the pillow.— NSU Sharks Athletics (@NSUSharks) December 14, 2017
David Dennis GAME WINNER pic.twitter.com/bmMSpxszpq
The Sharks are currently 8-1, the most recent victory coming on a Dennis game-winner in overtime, the first of his collegiate career. This team is starting to come together right in time for conference play.
“We’re still learning everyday,” Dennis said. “We’re not the best team in the conference right now but I feel like coming in February and March, we can be. It’s finally starting to click for us defensively, how intense we really have to be to get stops. There’s going to be nights where not everything is going our way, but its the little things that will help us win and we’re starting to buy into that.”
What else makes Dennis so special? Let’s step off the court and find out more about the Sharks newfound leader.
Favorite basketball movie: Glory Road.
Favorite NBA team: Lakers.
Favorite player: Kobe. If I had to model my game? People say Mike Conley all the time.
What’s in your headphones pregame: Drake, Meek Mill, those rap stars. The hype stuff.
Superstitions: Right now I have to eat Waffle House the night before every game.
Favorite cartoon: Hey Arnold.
Biggest fear: Snakes.
Favorite part about being at Nova: The weather.
Favorite follow on Twitter: Bleacher Report. Watching everything that goes down in sports.
Who would play you in a movie about the Sharks season: My little brother.
How will you feel if West Liberty and Nova Southeastern face off for the championship: It would be a lot of emotions. I still talk to the guys almost daily about it. It’s still all love, they’re still brothers to me. I’m watching out for them, I’m proud of them and they’re doing really well right now.