Jon Teitel sat down with Atlantic Sun legend Bryan Crislip. He falls onto Jon’s list of “Best Atlantic Sun Fantasy Players”. Jon caught up with Bryan as he was making plans to return to his hometown of Parkersburg, West Virginia after stints playings professional basketball in Amsterdam and the coaching at Florida Gulf Coast.
You began your college career at Arkansas-Little Rock before transferring to Florida Gulf Coast University. Why did you make the switch, and do you have any regrets?
Plain and simple: I was an 18-year old kid who was away from home for the first time and had a high school girlfriend who was attending VA Tech. After Christmas break I thought (at the time) that it would be best to try and move closer to her. As far as regrets, the way I look at any situation is that you should not have regrets. At the time I thought it was the best decision for me, and in the end I believe it was. I truly loved my days playing at FGCU, and have made many memories as well as great friends from my experience there.
In 2001 you were one of the first-ever hoops recruits in FGCU history thanks to Coach Dave Balza. What sort of relationship do you have with him, and did you feel any added pressure to make sure the school got its scholarship’s worth?
I thank Coach Balza everyday for giving me an opportunity to play at FGCU. After I left Little Rock I was kind of a risk for any school to take a chance on, but he took that gamble so I am very thankful to him for giving me the opportunity to play there. As for the scholarship, I believe that if you put in the hard work the results will take place in the end. I never thought of it as any pressure because the only pressure out there is the pressure you put on yourself. I saw it as more of an opportunity to play the sport I loved that I almost passed on, so I think everyone won in the end.
In 2003 you set a school-record with 8.2 assists-per-game. How did you enjoy the role of playmaker, and how were you able to rack up so many assists?
I have always been a pass-first, pass-second, and shoot-third guy, so I relished the idea of being a playmaker. My job was made easy because I had so many great players around me: Ryan Hopkins, Leighton Bowie, Robinson Tisme, Roman Brown, Scot Wilson, Andy French, Darrin Wallace, Marcus Parker, Kelvin Coggins, Marcus Watts, Brett Fritz, Kevin Martin, and on and on and on. I tried to name every teammate from my three-year career because they all played a role in me getting that many assists. Without guys who could put it in the basket I would have only averaged about two assists-per-game; however, I was fortunate enough to play with some great ones. These guys could have competed at the highest of levels of college basketball, not just division two.
In 2003 you also set a school-record with 78 steals. Was defense always a key part of your game, and how were you able to balance that with your passing ability?
It is funny that you say defense was a part of my game! The best way to describe this is that I knew the angles. I was never the quickest guy on the floor but I always felt like I could see a play developing or or two plays early. So, deep down I knew where the ball was going to end up, and it was just a question of whether I was going to make the steal. I was never a guy that would get up in your face: I just read my opponents’ eyes and tried to get a good jump on the pass to make a steal. We were also very prepared when it came to defense: we probably knew the other teams’ plays better than we knew our own. Coach Balza and his staff would watch hours of film and then do a great job on the court of teaching us how to stop what they were trying to do. If I just paid a bit of attention during practice, the opportunities for steals would be there. As far as it affecting my passing ability, it had very little to do with that. Coach Dennis Hunt did a great job with our off-season and pre-season conditioning, so that when the games rolled around it was easy. The conditioning allowed us to play hard on both ends of the court, not just offense (which everyone loves) or defense.
In 2004 you were named all-Independent: did it mean a lot for you to receive that honor, or do you consider it unimportant because your school was not in a “real” conference?
It is honestly an honor to receive any award, because people voted on it and we were compared to other Independent teams, so I am grateful for the award. I know we were not in a “real” conference, but we were playing real teams and won a lot more games than we lost.
After graduation you played professionally in the Netherlands: what did you learn from the experience, and how did it compare to college basketball?
It was a great experience. I feel that if any player has an opportunity to play overseas they should give it a try, whether it is the smallest of leagues or the Euroleague itself. Many individuals have grown up and only know one culture, so by playing overseas you realize there is more out there and get to see these countries first-hand that you only read about in school. The international game has some differences from the way basketball is played here in the states. It is more of a finesse game abroad: if you ever watch Karl Smesko’s women’s team at FGCU, it is like that. They will spread you out on defense, penetrate, and then kick it outside. Everyone can shoot so it is more of a skill game rather than 1 based on athleticism. If I was comparing the league I played in to the college game, I would say we were a high level division one team. Spain, Greece, Italy are the main leagues, and my personal opinion is that we were a B or C league in the Netherlands. However, it was a great experience, and if I could do it all over again I probably would have tried harder to pursue my career overseas longer.
From 2005-2007, you were an assistant coach for the FGCU women’s team: what are the biggest differences between the men’s game and the women’s game?
The biggest difference is the speed/athleticism. Women are as skilled as any man: if you put any of the women that played for Coach Smesko while I was there up against a guy in a shooting or dribbling contest, they would hold their own and maybe even win. However, the guys’ game is played above the rim so there are different areas that guys need to be good at compared to women. Everyone knows their own strengths and weaknesses and coaches at each level must maximize their players’ strengths.
In 2007 your women’s team reached the D-2 title game: how does that experience compare to the “March Madness” of the D-1 title game?
It was an unbelievable experience. I do not care what you are coaching, whether its pee wee football or NBA basketball: if you are competing for a title then you are into the moment. I bet everyone can remember every championship they ever won because they are great memories, and that is what that season was: a great memory. We had a group of women who were not even ranked at the beginning of the season. After all their hard work throughout the preseason that continued into the year, it paid off. They did a great job of executing Coach Smesko’s system that led us to one magical season. We were fortunate enough to have a great group of players led by our All-American Kate Schrader. It is always a great thing when your best player is your hardest worker because the others will follow her by example. I cannot forget the stellar play of All-American Steffi Sorensen (who later played professionally overseas) and Chelsea Dermyer, as well as Adrianne McNally (who was first-team All-Atlantic Sun). We had a great group and it is a moment I will never forget. We were so close to winning it all and I enjoyed it as much as any game I ever played in, so it definitely was “March Madness” for us.
In 2008 you became an assistant coach for the men’s team at D-2 Lynn University: do you take the same approach towards coaching men vs. women?
You cannot do something like that: you have to coach towards the players you are working with. Women are definitely different than guys so I have to adjust my coaching style towards that. The way I work to prepare myself to work is the same way: you always have to be willing to put in the hours and continue to learn the game. The moment you relax some other coach will find a way to make his team better, and then your team will be 1 step behind.
What do you hope to be in the years ahead: D-2 head coach, D-1 assistant or head coach, NBA assistant coach, other?
I am actually out of the college coaching ranks. I moved backed to Parkersburg, WV to start working for Northwestern Mutual Financial Network. I have always been a Parkersburg boy and I felt it was time to move back and start a different venture. It does not necessarily mean that I have given up on my dreams of coaching college, but you never know what tomorrow will bring. Besides working at Northwestern Mutual, my father and a group of other investors have started a sports facility back in my hometown called the Elite Sports Center. We will be training kids in all kinds of sports: basketball, soccer, volleyball, etc. We will also be a big event facility that will hold AAU basketball tournaments, cheerleading tournaments, etc. So, this is another way to keep me actively involved in basketball, and like I said before, you never know what tomorrow will bring.