A day after former Stanford star Reid Travis committed to Kentucky last week, Geno Crandall was one of the first to congratulate his old DeLaSalle teammate for his big-time opportunity.
Of course, Crandall and Travis thought how crazy it would be if both were competing for a national title against each other to finish their college basketball careers at the Final Four in Minneapolis.
“Now all that’s left is to play against each other in the national championship,” said Crandall, a graduate transfer like Travis. “It would be nice.”
Travis, an All-Pac 12 forward last season, turned the Wildcats into the odds-on favorite in Las Vegas to be the 2019 NCAA champions, moving ahead of Duke, Kansas, Villanova, Gonzaga and Nevada.
Crandall, who is transferring from North Dakota, said Gonzaga will be his last visit this weekend. The 6-4 All-Big Sky guard visited Minnesota and Xavier, while he also considered Colorado State and New Mexico State.
“Probably get back from Spokane, take a few days to think it all over and have a decision sometime next week,” Crandall said.
The Minneapolis native is already living a dream, having played in the NCAA tournament despite having only a couple of Division I offers in high school. Several options now could result in Crandall ending his career back in his hometown.
“It’s definitely something I’m not used to,” Crandall said about having dozens of high-major programs calling him. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for all those highly recruited players out of high school being 17 and 18 years old dealing with all that.”
One of those high-profile recruits was his buddy Travis, who was a McDonald’s All-America and part of the state’s “Big Three” prospects with Tyus Jones and Rashad Vaughn in 2014. Crandall was named to all-tournament team with Travis when DeLaSalle won its third consecutive Class 3A title, but Drake and North Dakota were his only scholarship offers.
He picked the Fighting Hawks because fellow Minnesotan and former Park Center standout Quinton Hooker would be his backcourt running mate. They talked on his recruiting visit about winning a conference championship and making the Big Dance together.
In his redshirt freshman season, Crandall averaged 11 points and a team-best four assists per game for North Dakota, which went from eight to 17 wins in 2015-16. The following year, Hooker and Crandall led the Fighting Hawks to a 22-10 record and played in their first NCAA tournament after UND won the Big Sky tournament. Carson Shanks from Prior Lake and Josh Collins from DeLaSalle also were on the team.
“To be able to do that with Minnesota guys was awesome,” Crandall said. “That was a ton of fun, especially the process of getting there, basically laying the foundation for the NCAA tournament year. That entire journey, building with that group of guys and having that group for two whole years was a great experience. It was really good for that school, that program and that community to be able to experience that and live that with us. It’s just something all of us will hold on to for the rest of our lives.”
Hooker graduated and Shanks transferred and eventually reached a Final Four at Loyola-Chicago last season. Meanwhile, Crandall moved into a bigger scoring role as a junior. He averaged 16.6 points and shot 41.7 percent from three-point range. A career-best performance came against Troy in Hawaii with 41 points, a school record for Division I games.
Still, UND finished 12-20 last season with Crandall having to carry too much of the load. Missing was senior leadership and depth. He imagined greater success as a graduate and pursued his senior season elsewhere.
“It was nothing against North Dakota,” he said. “It just wasn’t the right fit for me anymore, where my mind was at. It’s definitely different. The grad transfer route when it comes to the recruiting process is a little hectic.”
Immediately after Crandall received his release his phone buzzed nonstop with calls from Big Ten, ACC and Big East schools. The Gophers got the first visit. Richard Pitino tried to sell Crandall on already being tight with his players since he had been playing pickup ball on campus with them for weeks.
“Growing up being a Gopher fan, I remember going to games at the Barn and how much of an impact that had on me as a kid,” Crandall said. “Being friends with a lot of guys on the team, hanging around them and playing with them in open gyms is definitely an advantage that Coach P has.”
How much of an advantage is hard to say. The Gophers were 15-17 last season, but they return a strong group with All-Big Ten forward Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey, Dupree McBrayer and Isaiah Washington in the backcourt. They added grad transfer Brock Stull from Wisconsin-Milwaukee, plus a talented 2018 recruiting class with locals Daniel Oturu, Jarvis Omersa and Gabe Kalscheur.
“Gabe was a freshman a year after I graduated,” Crandall said. “Just being around DeLaSalle, I’ve worked out with him a couple times. He’s a really good player. I’m excited about what he’s going to do in college.”
Unlike Kalscheur, Crandall wasn’t offered by the Gophers at DeLaSalle. Now that he does have a chance to stay home as a grad transfer, the senior who grew up right around the corner from the U has other options as well — even to play for a national title contender like his pal, Travis.
“Winning and having a major role obviously is what I’m looking for,” he said. “The development aspect of it comes into play. Where can I see myself that’s going to get me better and going to get me prepared for after college and hopefully a professional basketball career.”