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Croasdell really back in the game

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Three years ago, it was questionable whether James Croasdell could again play high school basketball. Now, he’ll be playing at a highly-successful college program.

The Albuquerque High standout will join Utah State as a recruited walk-on for coach Stew Morrill. Croasdell received an academic scholarship to the school.

“It’s really exciting,” says the 6-foot-7 Croasdell, who has a weighted 4.0 grade point average and plans to major in both economics and mathematics. “It’s a great school with a great coaching staff. I got to see a couple of games at the (USU’s arena, the Dee Glen Smith) Spectrum. The atmosphere was amazing.”

Croasdell’s path to college basketball has been pretty amazing as well.

During basketball tryouts as a freshman at Sandia, Croasdell — who had grown from 5-8 to 6-3 in one year — felt some big-time pain in his back. He said it wasn’t pain like he’d ever felt before, but he continued through tryouts and made the team.

The pain, however, didn’t improve. It was more than growing pains — but was a pain from growing.

“I knew it was from more than just falling,” he said. “It hurt way too much for that.”

Three days later, doctors found he had a broken back.

“He had grown seven inches in a year and had severe vitamin D deficiency, which is apparently more common in New Mexico than we know,” says father Jeff Croasdell, an attorney. “The calcium wasn’t getting to the bones, and he was out running around, working with the team, and the compression fractured his spine in three places.”

James transferred to Albuquerque High the following year, the district in which he lived and where his two older sisters had graduated, but didn’t play basketball as a sophomore.

“It was pretty depressing, because I had been playing well when I got hurt and I was really liking basketball,” James says. “The coaches were liking me, too. It was weird not playing full basketball two years. I had played since I was 7. But the coaches were really helpful in helping me get back.”

Jeff and wife Michelle, a professor at UNM in the college of education, were surprised by James’ early-teen growth spurt. But not shocked.

“I’m 5-7 and Jeff’s 6-1, but when James was born he was 12 pounds and 23 inches,” Michelle says. “He was 20 pounds when he was 6 weeks, and we had to feed him rice cereal through a ladle because the baby formula wasn’t enough.

“Even now, it’s hard keeping him fed,” she says with a laugh.

Croasdell joined the Bulldogs team as a junior but had trouble regaining his timing and skills after the two-year layoff. But as a senior this past season, he became one of the state’s top players. He averaged nearly 11 points, 14 rebounds, four blocked shots, three assists and 2.5 steals a game in helping the Bulldogs to the state tournament. “His body was pretty fragile throughout most of high school, but as he’s getting older, it’s getting bigger and stronger,” says Albuquerque High coach Ron Garcia. “That’s why he’s such a find for Utah State.

“He’s a great student, a hard worker, and I’m very confident he can play at the D I level. His improvement in just one year was remarkable. He has great instincts, shoots very well from outside and can go up and down the floor He could be something special.”

Croasdell is a Mormon and says he plans to redshirt this season, then go on a two-year mission. That would give him four years of eligibility when he returns to Utah State for the 2016-17 season. He says he thinks he can be a scholarship player by then, “as long as I work hard enough to get to that point.

“(This year) I’m just trying to get into system and work as hard as I can on the scout team this season, then I’ll go on my mission for two years.”