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When former Georgia Tech star Javaris Crittenton walked off the court last March after losing to UNLV in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, he looked up above for guidance, knowing that the most difficult-and most important-decision of his life awaited him.
In his one year with the team, the Yellow Jacket’s leader excelled both on and off the court in leading Georgia Tech to the Big Dance, averaging over 14 points per game while maintaining an impressive 3.5 GPA.
Still, despite achieving a rare balance upheld by only a few college athletes, Crittenton suspected that he was ready to make a leap that would determine his future for years to come.
Like fellow Georgia Tech standout and current New York Knick Stephon Marbury, Crit-as he is called by teammates-decided to follow his heart by entering the 2007 NBA Draft. What has transpired since has sent Crittenton-accustomed to catching his opponents off guard-onto the ride of his life, currently making a stop at Chick Hearn Court as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
In addition to being the emotional leader of his college team, the Lakers brain trust saw the rookie’s 6’5” frame, superior athleticism, poise and knack for making clutch plays as a perfect fit within Phil Jackson’s triangle offense. That he was still around with the nineteenth pick when it was time for the Lakers to select was an unexpected, but welcome, surprise for both parties.
“I can bring heart. I’m a competitor. I can bring a lot of stuff: passing, penetration, but I got heart,” said Crittenton.
Since that fateful June day, the Georgia native has transported his entire life to the City of Angels-a sometimes difficult adjustment from small-town living to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood that has forced the guard to draw upon those who matter most to him, starting with God.
“It’s helped me a lot. There is a lot of stuff you can get into,” said Crittenton. “You have to stay grounded. Continue to pray. There’s a lot of stuff to get into anywhere, but in L.A., there’s a whole lot of stuff. It’s Hollywood, there’s a lot of stuff to do, a lot of stuff to keep you from being focused so you really have to stay grounded.”
In completing his bicoastal journey, Crittenton has also been buoyed by the support of current Lakers teammates Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher. According to Crittenton, Bryant has singled him out for his diligence as a student of the game, happily sharing his All-NBA First Team knowledge by helping him with his defensive stances, explaining how to guard players based on their unique skill sets and how best to utilize his own offensive game.
“He’s been teaching me little nuances of the offense and things of that nature so it’s been great,” said Crittenton.
Veteran point guard Derek Fisher has similarly taken Crittenton under his wing-a move that is not lost on the rookie as he prepares for his first season of NBA action.
“It’s cool because he can teach me a lot of stuff since he’s been doing this for a long time so I can learn a lot from him,” said Crittenton.
The guard is already returning the favor, offering advice to future draft entrants who hope to one day fill his shoes.
“Being in high school and when I was younger, I thought about the NBA as just coming out here and having fun, playing basketball, making money and winning,” said Crittenton. “It is about that, but there’s also a financial part of it. You have to get a good financial advisor, a good agent, you have to watch your money and make sure certain stuff doesn’t happen.”
Based on the advice of his mentors and his own first-hand experience thus far, Crittenton cautions that not everyone who approaches new players has their best interests in mind.
“There’s a lot of people out here trying to get close to you and build a relationship with you to do stuff with your money and mess you over,” said Crittenton. “You have to be very careful and watchful and have good people in your circle.”
So far, Crittenton has been able to block out such negativity and, after completing his first Lakers training camp, has received rave reviews from both coaches and fans.
“Training camp was great. I came in, worked hard, went two-a-days. Everybody was competing...everything I looked forward to it being,” said Crittenton. “It wasn’t anything unexpected or anything like that so it was great.”
While he admits he still has much to learn both on and off the court, Crittenton has obviously studied much more than his business textbook as he is well versed in the Lakers illustrious history and how fortunate he is to carve his own page.
“Putting on that purple and gold man, walking through the hallways and seeing all of those pictures of the legends like Magic Johnson, Kareem, Worthy, looking at those pictures of those legends wearing the same jersey that I’m wearing now...I’m happy to be one of them,” said Crittenton.
True to his statement, the guard has been closely observing his L.A. predecessors, following a familiar track laid by many Lakers before him. Will it lead him to the basketball Promised Land? Only time will tell, but if his charismatic attitude and electric play so far is indicator, he is already well on his way.