David Crisp doesn’t know exactly when it started. And he doesn’t really know why, midway through this season, he turned to Sam Timmins an hour before tip-off and asked the 6-foot-11 forward to lift him up to the rim.
But it happened. And then it happened again. Now, if you watch Washington’s warmups, you can see it every time.
After assistant coach Will Conroy comes barreling down the lane for a dunk, the Huskies close in around him and Crisp. Then Timmins lifts Crisp up to the basket. And as his teammates bounce and yell around him, Crisp dangles from the rim. Sometimes, he’s one-handed. Other times, he swings his feet up over his head onto the backboard.
Before UW’s game against Colorado in January, it was enough to make one local reporter glance up from her computer and say, simply, “I’ve never seen that before.”
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“He just jumped up there one day and it kind of stuck,” Conroy said. “We took some flack for it where it’s like, ‘Get off the rim.’ But it’s unique. You find things that you do and everybody’s not going to love it, but if it’s what you do you stick with it. We were winning and he was doing it and it just kind of stuck.”
The Huskies (22-5, 13-1 Pac-12) have been doing a lot of winning this season, so there’s been little reason to change a routine that includes more than just Crisp’s activities.
Sometimes, one player will go in for a dunk and the rest of the team will jump at the same time. And if you take a peak behind the curtain before the Huskies run onto the court, you can catch Crisp swinging from the bar where the barrier hangs to smack his hand off a small scoreboard.
Senior Matisse Thybulle laughed as he talked about it. Crisp is always doing stuff like that, he said, even though Thybulle has told him multiple times that he’s going to hurt himself. The reasoning behind all of this is simple: It’s fun.
And basketball is supposed to be fun.
“We all play this game because we love it,” Thybulle said. “It gets serious because we want to win and a lot of pressure can come from that. I think guys tend to lose sight of why you started playing in the first place.
“Our coaches do a great job of reminding us just to get out there and have fun. When you’re having fun is when you’re playing loose and you can be more successful than if you play all tight and all you’re trying to do is not make a mistake.”
Crisp said it’s difficult for outsiders to understand how good it feels for him to be in a Husky uniform, playing in front of sold out crowds in his hometown … and finally winning. That’s why he does his best to show them.
Sometimes, that means hanging from the basket for a little while.
“Just take basketball back to the basics when you’re a kid,” Crisp said. “Mostly kids just play because they want to have fun, they wanted to have something to do. That’s what I feel like a lot of people lose in their journey in basketball once business gets involved in it, just the fun of the game. There’s nothing like that. … Playing a game you love, it’s fun.”
Every team creates its own routines, Conroy said. When he played at UW, he would walk former guard Nate Robinson around on an imaginary leash down the hallway.
“He’d be growling at other people,” Conroy said with a chuckle. “I was going to let the pit (bull) off the leash. You find your things.”
Conroy still plays a key role in making sure the Huskies are loose — physically and mentally — before the game begins. By tipoff, Conroy is dressed in a suit like every other assistant coach. But before the game, you’ll find him in shorts and a T-shirt running drills with the players.
Not many college coaches, Crisp said, are on the court working up a sweat and dunking with the players before games. It’s just another element that sets UW’s warmups apart.
“You don’t see that,” Crisp said. “If your coaches are bringing that type of energy every day. … you don’t have room to try and say you’re tired or you have no energy or you can’t find your energy.”
Conroy was playing basketball himself just a few years ago, so Thybulle said he still understands what makes them tick.
“Basketball players, we love to see a good dunk, we love to see someone jump high,” Thybulle said. “He loves to bring that kind of stuff out of us.”
In Conroy’s view, the job of assistant coaches is to put the players in good spirits. The head coach, he said, needs to do whatever he can to raise the level of play. Sometimes, that means discipline or singling a player out. But Conroy’s duty is to make sure the Huskies aren’t down on themselves, especially right before game time.
“I just like to feel it,” Conroy said. “Every coach comes out with their suit on. I want to sweat. I want to liven them up, give them a workout. Just kind of lay my body out there.”
For Conroy, the biggest reward is seeing the Huskies start games on a scoring run, something they’ve been able to do fairly often in Pac-12 play. UW started the conference season 10-0. It led all but three of those games after the first five minutes. In the seven games they led, the Huskies outscored their opponents 83-40.
Between Conroy’s involvement and Crisp’s antics, it seems UW has found its perfect pregame rhythm. The Huskies have a saying, Bring Your Energy, or B.Y.E. With so much out of their control in games, they’ve zeroed in on the one thing they can shape for themselves.
“That’s what it’s for, building energy,” said sophomore Jaylen Nowell. “When we’re out there, we’re talking. We just make sure to pick up guys. Even sometimes when our energy is low, just talking, just having fun during these warm-ups, during the halftime. It just gets us in the right mindset.”
While not every player is the same — some tend to be more reserved in the hours before game time, keeping to themselves and their music — they all benefit from the lighthearted mood. The energy, Crisp said, rubs off.
“We do that and we roll before the game,” Conroy said. “We just have our own thing. It’s what makes us go.”