Mike Crawley knew it was time to step away from the basketball court, even if he had just reached the summit.
The Fresno City College sophomore forward/guard helped lead the Rams to the 2012 state community college title with a 77-62 victory over Yuba, but everything changed the following summer.
The 6-foot-5 Pittsburg native delivered the bad news to coach Ed Madec: He needed to leave the program to focus on work and taking care of his son and girlfriend.
“I came back that summer working out and getting ready for the next season,” said Crawley, brother of former Fresno State wide receiver Jason Crawley. “I decided to make that choice to move on from basketball and leave the team.
“When I talked to Madec about it, it’s more so on a man-to-man level and not so much coach to player. It was me coming to him as a man and saying, ‘Hey, I need to take care of this,’ and there were no hard feelings at all. It was an easy decision to make given how understanding he was in life decisions.”
Still, Madec was shocked.
“I was devastated he was leaving,” said the now-10-year coach, who has led the Rams to two state titles. “I wanted him to stay in school, get a future and get a scholarship and better himself.”
That opportunity was delayed, but it never died.
After taking three years off, Crawley is back as a member of a 28-6 Rams team that is returning to the state final four for the first time since that 2011-12 season.
Fresno City will face Saddleback (30-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Las Positas College in Livermore. San Francisco (30-1) will face Chaffey (25-6) at 5 p.m. Saturday.
It was the phone call he received from Crawley that gave Madec belief in how far his 2015-16 team could go.
“I was on cloud nine; that’s for sure,” Madec said. “I knew when he was coming back we would be in the final four.”
Crawley’s mindset when he returned was to be a leader. His skill in that area was tested early, when the Rams started 4-4.
“He gets on guys when they’re not doing their best,” sophomore guard Aaron Cameron said. “He’s got on me tough a couple of times. He got on my case about running. He was like, ‘We need you to run. We need you if we’re going anywhere.’ He said it not only to me but a couple of guys. If he sends a message to one guy, it’s to the whole team.”
Crawley added: “There are days when we have a confrontation. Every good leader has confrontations every now and then, but other than that it’s a really great group of guys.”
During that mediocre run at the beginning of the season, Crawley talked with co-captain Nick Hilton about finding ways to get on track.
“We had a couple conversations here and there, but more so it was everybody on the team pulling together with their own sense of urgency,” Crawley said. “They understood that’s not what we do here at Fresno City College. We don’t lose that many games in the beginning.”
Those talks remain a vivid memory for Cameron.
“He’s a tough guy, but Mike is a great dude,” he said. “I can’t really say enough about him. He’s the definition of a brother as far as the team goes. He’s that guy we look up to … a big mentor.”
Crawley obviously likes how the team responded.
“I have the experience being there and where we needed to be,” Crawley said. “I feel like my role on the team from that (championship) team is completely different. Little bit older, but more experience and a little bit more level-headed and more consistent just being an all-around basketball player.”
State final four
Friday-Sunday at Las Positas College in Livermore
- Saturday: No. 1 South-Saddleback vs. No. 2 North-Fresno City, 7 p.m.; No. 1 North-City College of San Francisco vs. No. 2 South-Chaffey, 5 p.m.
- Friday: No. 1 South-Mt. San Antonio vs. No. 2 North-Fresno City, 7 p.m.; No. 1 North-City College of San Francisco vs. No. 2 South-East Los Angeles, 5 p.m.