This time, it will be a little different.
After starring at Villa Rica High School, followed by a protracted path to the pros, Crowder will play for the Dallas Mavericks against those same Hawks in his first NBA game in Georgia since being drafted last summer.
“It’ll be a thrill playing for the home crowd,” Crowder said. “Just being able to come back for your family, it’ll be a great moment, I’m sure.”
The Mavericks and Hawks square off Monday night at 7:30 in the Highlight Factory. Crowder is averaging 17.8 minutes, 5.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game, impressive stats for a rookie. He has also passed 1,000 minutes on the court, another rare feat for first-year players.
Crowder has enjoyed a strong week heading into Monday night’s game, scoring 14 points with eight rebounds in 36 minutes of action in a 115-108 win at Milwaukee on Tuesday and yanking down 14 rebounds in Friday night’s 96-86 home win over Cleveland, logging 34 minutes in that contest.
This means that all the friends and family members in attendance will have something to watch Monday evening.
“I have at least 20 family members and friends coming for the game,” Crowder said.
Crowder is excited to come home and play for the VR crowd. Though it’s been a few years since the 2008 VRHS graduate has lived in Villa Rica, he said his time growing up there has helped make him who he is today.
“All my family is still there. That’s where home is for me,” Crowder said. “It’s a small town, everybody knows everybody. But just to think about growing up and becoming who I’ve become is a surreal feeling. That doesn’t happen to anyone coming out of Villa Rica, but it was a great time and I’ll never forget where I come from.”
In an age where so much ink is given to “one-and-done” players who spend a single season in college basketball before heading to the pros, the Crowder story is rare.
His father, Corey Crowder, played in the NBA and professional European leagues. Jae Crowder was always gifted, but struggled with his weight growing up. He played both football and basketball at VRHS, but was offered no Division 1 college basketball scholarships out of high school. He spent two years playing for South Georgia Tech and Howard College in Texas.
In college, Crowder finally decided he wanted to be a basketball player. He led Howard to a junior college national championship and was rewarded with a spot at powerhouse Marquette University.
Marquette made the Sweet 16 in back-to-back seasons with Crowder — selected as the Big East Player of the Year in his senior campaign — as one of its top performers. After finishing his two years there, Crowder had used up all four years of eligibility and entered the NBA Draft.
“I think the longer path he took affected him in a good way,” noted Jae’s mother, Helen Thompson, who now lives in Dallas as well. “That’s been a blessing to know that he worked so hard to get where he his.”
All the hard work paid off last summer.
The Cleveland Cavaliers actually selected Crowder in the second round of the NBA Draft, 34th overall, and he was immediately traded to Dallas on a draft-night deal. He’s now having a successful first campaign and has worked his way into the regular rotation.
“We’re having and up-and-down season, but I’ve learned so much this year,” Crowder said. “We have great guys, a great coaching staff and a great organization. The people here really have helped me feel like a great player, feel like I can take my game to the next level.”
Though Villa Rica is in metro Atlanta, Crowder said he doesn’t expect too much trash talk about the Hawks. At least, not yet.
“I think it’ll just be friendly banter,” Crowder said. “As the years go on, those friendly conversations might become trash talk. But this first time it’s like a dream come true for everyone. I can’t believe this is really happening — I’m in the NBA and playing the home team. So it’s all fun and laughter right now.”
Crowder gave a shout out to Villa Rica High School and to his family back home, and he said he hopes to return soon for a charity event at the school.
“To the whole town of Villa Rica, I appreciate you,” Crowder said. “I hope everyone in town turns on the game. If you can’t make it, please watch it on TV.”