When Cori Crocker moved to Brighton last summer, she knew she was beginning her last season of basketball.
And she made the most of it.
The 6-2 senior had a dominating season for the Bulldogs, leading Brighton to a KLAA West Division title and a berth in a Class A district championship game.
She averaged a double-double, with 12.5 points and 13.8 rebounds, and was a player teams were conscious of on both ends of the floor.
“She’s the best post player we’ve had since Chelsea Albert,” Brighton coach Paul Ash said. “Chelsea was more of a finesse player, where Cori is very powerful. She’s not afraid of contact.”
For her efforts, Crocker has been named the All-County girls basketball player of the year.
As good as she was – she had offers to play basketball at the Division 1 level – Crocker will play volleyball at Michigan next year.
“I was a basketball player until my sophomore year,” she said. “I played volleyball, but I didn’t take it seriously. In my sophomore summer, I had patella tendinitis and I had to take two months off. The volleyball team was begging me to play, so I told the basketball team I’d play volleyball and when the season was over, I’d come back to basketball.”
A volleyball tournament that summer got her immediate offers from Virginia and Pittsburgh.
“I looked at my dad and said, ‘This is what I should be doing,'” she said.
At the time she was living in Grand Ledge, where she played on a team full of Division 1 recruits.
“At Grand Ledge, there weren’t enough basketballs to go around,” she said. “We had seven or eight players who could start. We were so loaded. Being a junior, I wasn’t depended upon to score and rebound.”
Ash had heard talk of Crocker and her family moving to Brighton, but didn’t know for sure until Crocker arrived at team camp at Grand Valley State University in July.
Throughout the season, Crocker also practiced with her club volleyball team while going through her paces with the Brighton basketball team.
“She was with us a majority of the time,” Ash said. “She did miss a few practices. As well as she played for us, you have to imagine how much better she might have been if she played basketball full time.”
Still, Crocker said, playing at Brighton was a great experience.
“It’s kind of scary moving your senior year,” she said. “There’s so much you forfeit, but it didn’t affect me at all. They treated me like a senior. I went from Grand Ledge, where we had five Division 1 athletes and others who could have gone that route to Brighton.
“We have some athletic girls in Brighton but not as much college opportunities. But there’s a lot to be said about the amount of competitiveness and how driven the entire team was. There was so much hard work and dedication that I’d never seen before, so much love for the sport.”
Crocker quickly learned who the rivals were for Brighton, and it was apparent when informed that the Hartland team used much of the same strategy employed in the Eagles’ district final in the regional final the next week.
“You’re welcome, Hartland,” she said, chuckling. “Glad we helped.”
Opposing coaches weren’t laughing when it came time to deal with Crocker on defense. She affected games by her willingness to throw her body around and a leaping ability that forced opponents to change the trajectory of their shots, most times for the worse.
“She was the kid who always was the focus of our game plan,” said Hartland coach Don Palmer, whose team lost three times before beating the Bulldogs in the district final. “We saw a lot of good players this season, but we game-planned the hardest for her.”
Ash understood Crocker’s love of volleyball, but he couldn’t resist thinking about what might have been.
“Basketball, for her, was fun,” he said. “She’s a quality kid. Michigan’s getting a good one. If she had the same focus into basketball, she would have been playing at the Big Ten level, minimum.”
On the other hand, it’s possible Crocker could, after her volleyball eligibility is done, play a season of college basketball.
“The coach at Western (Michigan) is trying to get me to play there,” she said. “It’s always a thought. I’d love to play one more season. It’s a legitimate option.”
Until then, she’ll have fond memories of playing at Brighton.
“Even though basketball isn’t my love, I got a lot out of the season,” she said. “I wouldn’t have traded it.”
■SUNDAY: Boys bowling
■WEDNESDAY: Girls bowling
■TODAY: Girls basketball