For NC State women’s basketball sophomore guard Kai Crutchfield, becoming a starter after her teammate’s injury has been an exciting opportunity despite the situation.
As a kid, Crutchfield grew up in an athletic family, her very first interest being track.
“I honestly thought that track was going to be my first love, but then [my parents] put a basketball in my hands,” Crutchfield said.
Crutchfield attended Millbrook High School, where she was Cap-8 Player of the Year in 2017, ranked as the No. 24 guard and No. 82 overall player in the class of 2017, and hit the game-winning buzzer beater in the 4A State Championships in 2016.
“Right now we’re ranked in the ACC, and I believe that the ACC is one of the best conferences, so it put me on a platform for me to be able to perform at a high level,” Crutchfield said. “My junior year we played at Carolina … I know, I hate to say it … and just being in that arena and being in that environment with the crowd prepared me for this type of scenery and playing at a D1 level.”
The 2016 4A State Championships were held in Chapel Hill, where Crutchfield was named the 4A State Championship Most Valuable Player.
Staying close to her roots, Crutchfield chose to come to NC State because it “felt like home” to her. Her family is close by and comes to watch her play every chance they can.
“Last year I didn’t play that much, but my family still came and watched every single game,” Crutchfield said.
Her family is her biggest inspiration: her mom and dad who always stick their necks out for her, and her little brother who she aspires to be a good role model for.
For the 2017-2018 season Crutchfield was on the scout team, meaning the majority of the time she helped prepare the players who were on the court and helped the team from the sideline.
Crutchfield appeared in 28 games last season, averaging about 9.1 minutes and 2 points per game.
After redshirt junior guard Grace Hunter’s season-ending injury, Crutchfield stepped into the spotlight and filled the empty starting spot.
“Kai is capable of doing everything we need her to do,” head coach Wes Moore said. “She can knock down a 3; she’s athletic enough to get to the rim. She’s quick enough to guard people. She is a very versatile player who will continue to get better with more time on the court.”
Crutchfield has started in the last four games and continues to show her talent on the court. This season she has averaged 22.5 minutes and 4.9 points per game. She has set or tied eight career highs within the last four games, including a career high of nine rebounds and another of 42 minutes of playing time in the game against Virginia Tech on Sunday.
“We had some big injuries that happened to our team, and Kai did a really good job at uplifting us. There was a lot of heartache going on, and she was able to bring some energy in,” said junior guard Aislinn Konig.
For Crutchfield, starting was something she had been looking forward to.
“Even though the circumstances for why I’m starting are unfortunate, the opportunity is huge. It’s something I’ve been praying for for a while,” Crutchfield said.
Crutchfield is not only useful for her shooting skills. She is good at facilitating on the court and reading the game, which as a guard helps her determine who the ball should be sent to and what plays to run.
“She is someone you can trust,” Moore said. “She has shown a lot of responsibility in all facets of her life, and it’s good to have someone like that. That gives you that kind of stability and leadership.”
Being only a sophomore, Crutchfield is the youngest of the five starters, and one of the younger players on the team as a whole. She has even developed the nickname “Baby Crutch,” given to her by some of the girls who also played AAU with her before they all came to State. Having older teammates guarantees a great support system, but that also comes with more advice.
“Each of my teammates give me a different perspective,” Crutchfield said. “[Konig] is a shooting guard, so she’s helped me change my shot over the year, and [graduate guard Kiara Leslie] has told me when I need to drive or when I should do this move instead of this move and then [senior forward DD Rogers] and [junior forward Erika Cassell] are always in my ear. It’s really everybody that helps me.”
She doesn’t mind the pointers from her teammates, hoping to be able to do the same when she is an upperclassman for the younger players on the team. One of her ultimate goals is to be known as a leader, which she knows comes with growth.
Coming off of the win against Virginia Tech on Sunday that improved the team to 18-0, Crutchfield knows that the pressure is on, being the only undefeated basketball team in D1.
“We need to execute on offense and defense, and there are little things we need to clean up, but we just need to keep the chemistry there and keep supporting each other,” Crutchfield said. “When something happens, even just a pat on the back or a ‘you got it’ can be so powerful.”