Richard Crabtree might be a little too young to remember TV's classic Maytag repairman, but, back in late November and early December, Tyrone Area High School's senior shooting guard had a lot in common with the guy who was lonely because no one needed to bring in their appliances to him to get them fixed.
At the time, most of Crabtree's Golden Eagle boys basketball teammates were taking part in Tyrone's run to the PIAA Class AA football finals. That left Crabtree to practice for a month with less than a half-dozen other players, a couple of which hadn't played basketball before.
"We had we think around five kids. We did a bunch of drills, ran and just tried to get the fundamentals down,'' Crabtree said.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Richard Crabtree is scoring at an 18.9-point-per-game clip for Tyrone.
The 6-foot-1 senior guard took advantage of the time alone to focus on patching the holes in his game. He evolved from being primarily a sharp-shooter into a more well-rounded backcourt player whose reliability would make the character from those old Maytag commercials cringe.
"He kind of picked up for a lot of us who were [behind] coming in from football that didn't have a lot of time to work on our basketball skills,'' said Steve Franco, one of Crabtree's fellow Eagle seniors. "He kind of picked it up and led us through there [early in the season] scoring-wise, and that's what he's been doing all year.''
Entering the last week of the regular season, Crabtree is averaging 18.9 points per game for the Eagles, who, despite their late start are 18-2, heading to the Mountain League championship game and probably will be the top seed in the District 6 Class AA playoffs after losing in the first round of the postseason last year. He has made 53 3-pointers and is shooting nearly 35 percent from beyond the arc.
Crabtree's best performance was a 35-point outburst against Bald Eagle Area on Dec. 23, the third game in four days during Tyrone's first week of basketball as it tried to catch up on lost time. Crabtree, though, has been a model of consistency for the Eagles - he's been held below 14 points just three times all season.
Crabtree also entered Saturday night's win over Tussey Mountain averaging 4.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.1 steals. Even better, as far as Tyrone coach George Gripp is concerned, though, is that Crabtree has taken as many shots this season from inside the 3-point line as outside, and he's also gotten to the foul line 86 times.
"We've needed his scoring. We've always talked to Richard about having some balance to his game. Everybody knows he's a very good outside shooter. Richard does have a tendency, though, when he makes a couple, that's all he wants to do, and he can certainly do a lot more than just shoot the ball for us,'' Gripp said. "We have to keep reminding him to give the ball fake when guys are running out at him and either hit that mid-range jumper or, this year, he's really understanding how to create shots for his teammates. He's a really a good passer, and he can finish around the rim excellently with both either hand.''
Unlike a lot of high school players, Crabtree had the wherewithal to see the shortcomings in his game and to take time to shore them up instead of just continuing to do the things he already did well. In fact, although he only scored six points against Tussey, it was his late foul-line jumper that helped seal the win on Saturday.
"Coach Gripp and Brandon, his son, would go with me to the gym, and we would take 200 shots with the gun. We also did dribbling drills, because I wasn't that good of a ballhandler coming into the season,'' Crabtree said. "And defense, too. I wasn't good at that.''
In addition, Crabtree spent the summer working on his game while playing on a team with older players in the Mansion Park Summer League.
Crabtree's determination to make himself an all-around basketball player might be rooted in the fact that the sport has been almost a lifelong pursuit for him. His father, Gary, used to play, and he picked up the game himself when he was "3 or 4'' trying to compete with his brother, Josh, a multi-sport standout who graduated from Tyrone in 2005.
"I've known Richard since he was in fifth or sixth grade. I've coached him coming up through some junior high leagues, fifth-and-sixth grade leagues, seventh grade leagues, helping out in the summer time with him,'' George Gripp said. "His older brother, Josh, played for us, so he's always been around the program. I think he might have even been our ballboy a couple of years.''
Family has been another source of motivation for Crabtree. He's dedicating his senior basketball season to his grandfather, Richard Barr, and writes his initials on his hand before every game. Richard Barr passed away last year.
"He doesn't talk about it, but I know he does play for him,'' Franco said. "He must have been a very influential person on his life and his whole family's lives, because one of our volunteer assistant [football] coaches, Shane Barr, always talks about him. I definitely think that has been a driving force for him.''
"I wouldn't be where I was now without my family, my teammates and God,'' Crabtree said.
Crabtree picked up another of his passions - bowling - from his dad and has even rolled a 264 game. In the fall, when so many of his friends are playing football, Crabtree was playing tennis for Tyrone at an all-star level.
Franco, the Golden Eagles' quarterback and Class AA player of the year, thinks Crabtree could have been a contributor to the Tyrone football team.
"I think he would have definitely helped us,'' Franco said. "He's such a good athlete. His brother, Josh, and he are the same build and both are very athletic, and Josh was an all-state player at Tyrone in '04. I think he would have been the same type of guy.''
Crabtree actually played football up to eighth grade before giving it up to focus on basketball, a move Franco said his teammates understood and supported - Crabtree now is getting recruited by several colleges from across the state. Crabtree, though, still supported his friends in football, and, occasionally, wonders what might have been.
"I was really happy for them. They had an amazing season. My dad always told me I could be there with them,'' Crabtree said. "I have some regrets. After taking off that long, I didn't think it would have been worth it, but, if I had gone back out, it would have been worth it in the end.''