Crandall leaves more than a smile at GV

GVL / Robert Mathews           
Dani Crandall

GVL / Robert Mathews Dani Crandall

Pete Barrows

Dani Crandall joined the Grand Valley State University women’s basketball team in 2010 with dreams — winning a national championship, for one — and the right to chase them.

Crandall also packed a smile that she brought with her from Eaton Rapids, Mich., as a freshman. A smile that was never crooked. Not even after it caught an errant elbow from a teammate in practice and lost a tooth.

She kept smiling, and perhaps more than anything else, that smile will mark her tenure as a four-year contributor at GVSU.

“What Dani will leave at this program is a beautiful smile that she gives to everybody all the time,” GVSU coach Janel Burgess said. “During our win Saturday against Michigan Tech, she smiled during every minute.

“She has smiled ever since she came here, whatever she was asked to do. She has been able to smile through adversity, and she’s been able to stay true to the course — which is commendable. Through it all, Dani has smiled, and we’re better as a program because she did.”

As a freshman, Crandall averaged 16.7 minutes, five points and three rebounds per contest and played in 22 games.

As a sophomore, Crandall played in all 26 games, started two and averaged 22 minutes, four points and four rebounds per contest as the team’s sixth man.

Last year as a junior, Crandall saw time in all 27 games, started 18 and averaged 25 minutes, eight points and four rebounds per contest.

As Crandall’s minutes have grown, so has her production and her role on the team. Like a smile spreading from smirk-to-grin-to-beam.

“She has really matured, especially being the only senior now, as both a player and a person,” junior center Daina Grazulis said. “Dani has always been able to score and get to the basket, but now can finish around the rim, and that’s something she has developed over the years. She’s made finishing a priority and can make virtually any shot.

“Dani has also facilitated our growth as a team this season and has been there for us through all the trying times. We owe it to her that we are such a cohesive unit this year.”

Now a senior and the lone four-year player left at GVSU, Crandall leads the Lakers in most statistical categories, including minutes (28.3), points (12.7), rebounds (5.8), assists (3.09) and field-goal percentage (51.6 percent on 95-of-184 shooting).

Crandall also ranks second in blocks (8), steals (19), free throws attempted (100) and free throws made (69) — numbers that not only dwarf her production from previous years, but also resemble those of last year’s leading scorer Briauna Taylor, who averaged 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists per game.

“My role went from playing behind some great players like Briauna Taylor to being the only one with experience,” Crandall said. “I wasn’t expecting to fill Briauna’s shoes — I don’t feel like I have all the talent that Briauna had — but I was hoping to lead the team by my experience here and show the younger kids that a staple of this program is hard work.”

Crandall has given plenty to the university and its athletic program during her time at GVSU. Like helping the Lakers perpetuate a streak of eight conference tournament appearances in nine years, including an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2011, as a freshman.

She has also provided her teammates and school with ample memories to remember her by.

Like a game-winning 3-point dagger against Wayne State University last year with 1:06 left on the clock put the Lakers up to stay, for instance.

A victory against Michigan Technological University last season was one of Crandall’s personal favorites.

“It was the first time in my career that we had beat them and we just killed them,” Crandall said. “I don’t know how to say that nicely, but we killed them on our home court, which was great.”

Or again against MTU on Saturday, when Crandall logged 28 minutes and scored a career-high 28 points, many of which came with four fouls to her name, to move GVSU (11-10, 9-8 GLIAC) to a game over .500 both overall and in the GLIAC. It might have been her biggest performance and game, yet.

She, for all her efforts toward this unfinished season, has also played an integral role in integrating GVSU for the future. Seven newcomers — two transfers and five freshman — enrolled this season and have seemed to step effortlessly into the fray.

“As a head coach, you always wonder what a kid’s going to bring to the program,” Burgess said. “Dani’s been here for four years and throughout those four years, she has continued to be a Laker student-athlete in every sense, has a genuine character that has imbedded greatness in everything that she does, is a tremendous leader that leads by example, both through her hard work and production and what she has given this young team, I’m not sure anyone can define or describe.

“She has been relentless, a motherly figure to these young women in so many ways, yet demands greatness from them every step of the way, and I really believe that she will be remembered as one of the greatest leaders that has gone through this program since I’ve been here. Dani’s had a different role every year, and has always risen to that role and played it to the best of her ability, and we wouldn’t be the team we are today or can be tomorrow without her.”

With two signature wins and a pair of two-point losses in its last four games at home, GVSU is primed and playing some of its best basketball of the season.

Crandall, who has averaged 19 points during that span, has been a big part of the progress.

As the Lakers build toward a potential GLIAC run with NCAA tournament aspirations, Crandall said she feels a national championship run is close, whether it be this year or in the near future.

“The things I’m doing now are for the future,” she said. “The ways that I lead are for the younger kids, the freshmen, the second-year, third-year kids even. I’m hoping that the things that I do and the example I provide can carry over after I’m gone.

“Especially in the close years to come, I think GVSU is going to be successful. We have all the right tools, will have experience by the time these freshmen are juniors and seniors and the high basketball IQ that we have will continue to grow the more they play together.”

Whether she’s right or not, Crandall’s name won’t be found in the GVSU record book, and unless the Lakers win it all this season, she won’t be given credit for any national championship if and when it comes.

Which is fine by Crandall, who has never been about numbers or points or playing time or credit. Crandall instead is a leader and quality person first, a basketball player second — and a good one at that. An individual who excels in a variety of facets and roles and sports — she had options to play both soccer and volleyball in college — and does it all with a smile.

“When my career is over, I would hope that they would say that I was a well-balanced person and young lady on and off the court, that people had fun around me, that I was funny,” she said. “That they remember something about me, whether it’s those things, something silly that I did — like when I got my tooth knocked out, or something simple, like when I smile.”