Not only was John Crawford an outstanding player on ISU’s successful men’s basketball teams from 1956-58, he was also a true Cyclone pioneer. The New York, N.Y., native was the first African-American basketball player in school history, opening the door for a slew of future Cyclone stars.
Crawford, an athletic 6-5 forward who had incredible leaping ability, was a three-year starter from 1956-58, averaging nearly a double-double in his career (13.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg). He came to Iowa State from New York, where he led the city and was named most outstanding player in the area at New York School of Printing. Crawford was lured to Iowa State by a young coach named Bill Strannigan, who was about to make his mark as one of the greatest mentors in Iowa State history.
As a sophomore in 1955-56, Crawford immediately earned a spot in the Cyclone lineup while helping set the table for one of the greatest periods in Cyclone basketball history. Crawford averaged 12.6 ppg and 9.7 rpg for a team that won its first conference tournament title in school history with a 1955 Big Seven Conference Holiday Tournament crown. The Cyclones defeated highly-favored Kansas, 67-56 to claim the title. The historic win vaulted ISU to No. 7 in the national polls, the highest ranking in school history at the time. The 1955-56 squad tied for second in the Big Seven with an 8-4 mark and broke the school record for wins with 18.
Crawford averaged a double-double in his junior season (13.6 ppg, 10.2 rpg) in 1956-57. That Cyclone team was led by senior All-American Gary Thompson and it spent the majority of the year ranked nationally in the top-20, including as high as No. 3 after defeating Wilt Chamberlain-led No. 1-ranked Kansas 39-37. It is the only time in school history where a Cyclone team defeated a team that was ranked No. 1 nationally. He tied a school record on Dec. 29, 1956 when he made all 15 of his free-throw attempts en route to 21 points in a 89-69 victory over Nebraska.
In his senior season (1957-58), Crawford earned first-team all-Big Seven honors after averaging 14.1 ppg and 9.1 rpg, leading the team in both categories. He posted 27 points vs. Drake and 28 points against Illinois to aid ISU to a pair of key non-conference victories, as the Cyclones finished 15-8 overall. The 1957-58 Cyclones tied for second in the league (8-4) and were ranked as high as No. 20 nationally. Crawford ended his brilliant three-year career as the school’s all-time leading rebounder with 658 boards, as ISU was 22-14 vs. Big Seven competition in Crawford’s three years as a starter.
He currently stands at No. 14 on the career rebounding charts and his 9.7 career rpg average ranks seventh-best all-time in ISU history. Crawford ended his career as the second-leading scorer in school history behind Thompson when he graduated with 914 points. He currently ranks No. 32 on the school all-time scoring chart.