Crandall transitions from player to coach

GVL / Robert Mathews
Junior Dani Crandall

GVL / Archive

GVL / Robert Mathews Junior Dani Crandall

Pete Barrows

The Earth makes its rounds day after day as though it was a basketball spun on a finger in the sky, and from the planetary to the molecular, life, like basketball, is constant motion.

Through the movement, change is inevitable. That’s just the way it is. It’s also occasionally welcome, as it was for recent Grand Valley State alumna Dani Crandall.

Six months ago, Crandall laced up her sneakers one final time as a player on the Laker women’s basketball team. Although unforeseen at the time, her service to the program wasn’t over.

Not yet.

At the conclusion of an internship with current Laker women’s basketball strength and conditioning coach, Joe Poferri, Crandall considered her options and campaigned to Burgess to extend her time at GVSU.

“I presented the idea of me being a graduate assistant to her in the spring, and I pitched that I could help,” Crandall said. “I know the system, the program, the traditions, the staff and the girls all really well, and told her that I was interested in being a strength coach.

“I then pointed out that if she was going to continue to use Joe (Poferri), that it would be a great outlet for me to continue to work with the team since I know his system and his exercises, too.”

It was a successful pitch.

So, after being tabbed to the All-GLIAC First Team and leaving her mark on both GVSU and the GLIAC, Crandall took a degree in exercise science and her astute basketball acumen, and traded in her sneakers for a whistle.

It’s been a smoother transition so far than many might have anticipated for Crandall — the freshly removed senior captain of the team she now coaches. 

“People ask me all the time if it’s hard not playing and still being around it or if I miss playing, and the truth is that I don’t,” Crandall said. “It’s weird. I miss lacing up because it’s been a part of me for four years, but at the same time, I haven’t been removed long enough to miss it that bad. 

“Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s a bad thing, but right now, I really enjoy my role being a coach and a mentor to the girls while being there for the coaches also.”

Both the players and coaches she now works with have enjoyed working with coach Crandall too, albeit the dynamic of the relationship has changed. 

Crandall can no longer bail the team out with her play as she did when she netted a career-high 36 points (tied for the sixth-highest scoring output in GVSU history) in an overtime victory over Northwood University back on Feb. 15 of last year. Nor can she associate with the same players she so recently called teammates in quite the same way as she once did.

“I guess I don’t really know what the team is like away from basketball anymore,” Crandall said. “We were always close and loved to hang out with each other, but I don’t necessarily know what that’s like currently since I had to remove myself from that scene as a coach.

“I do still think the team is getting along great, though. They play well, they’re enjoying the process and speaking from what I’ve seen at practices and games, if the chemistry isn’t better than it was last year, it’s just as good.”

What she can do is jump back onto to the court to model drills she’s executed for years, and is more familiar with than the back of her hand. She’ll even periodically lace up as a body on the scout team, and when the need arises, demonstrates with a swish of the net or a subtle crossover that it’s her role — not her game — that has changed. 

She can also share her years of experience as well as insights gleaned on and off the court with both her players and the coaches she works with. And all of what she can do, she does well. 

“The rapport between Dani and I has always been strong, but it’s especially unique now,” Burgess said. “There had to be an immediate trust in terms of philosophy, interest level and passion for the program for me to have brought her on staff, and it’s all there. It takes a lot of trust from myself to know that she’s mature, and ready to embark on that challenge, and she has done a tremendous job with everything we have tasked her with.

“I think it’s easy to forget how hard it can be to deprogram yourself from being a athlete, but I lean on Dani to give me insight and to remind me what it’s like to be a player. What did you think as a player? What can we change? She can look at it with such a fresh coaching perspective not far removed from being a player, and that’s invaluable.

“I also lean on Dani to set a tone, and the kids are able to respect her because everything she did here at GVSU, she did it so well and they saw her do it. We’re very fortunate to still have Dani in the program, and she’s having a real and positive impact on our kids.”

Where Crandall left off on the court last year – with a 14-12 record (12-10 GLIAC), just out of range of a spot in the GLIAC tournament – seniors Kat LaPrairie and Meryl Cripe will pick right back up, leading an assorted cast of now-sophomore and junior returners like Piper Tucker, Kayla Dawson, Taylor Lutz and Bailey Cairnduff as Crandall had before them. 

What’s next for Crandall, the recent graduate who has aspirations of becoming a strength and conditioning coach someday, and would like to have an opportunity to travel, not the coach, is as uncertain as how the 2014-15 rendition of GVSU basketball’s season will unfold. 

Although through all the unbeknownst and all the changes, the core goal for the season remains the same as it always has: to win a national championship, GVSU’s first since 2005-06. 

It’s a lofty goal to be sure, but as much as things change, they stay the same. It’s unlikely anyone will rise from this year’s team to replace Crandall’s contributions verbatim. They don’t have to. But as Crandall has passed down and a maintained a proud tradition, those that come next will be tasked with doing the same. 

As the days continue to spin and Crandall’s story has come full circle, the ball, so to speak, is in a talented team’s court. 

“I hope for only the best for this team,” Crandall said. “That’s another reason why I wanted to stay around; to be a part of and to continue to help this program try to get what we’ve been working for as long as I can remember. 

“That’s a championship, and that goal starts in the regular season, goes into the GLIAC Tournament and then goes on from there. We aspire to be the best GVSU basketball team to come through the program, and even though it’s anyone’s guess what the future holds, that’s not a bad place to be.”