Flying High: Croaker raising overall game
Coming out of high school, Damarcus Croaker was rated among the best players in the country. A 4-star Rivals recruit, he had offers from Texas, Georgia, Florida State, Marquette, Wichita State and a host of other schools. So, when he committed to Murray State in December of 2012 Racer fans were over the moon. Then in February of 2013, they were crushed when he rescinded that commitment.
Croaker wound up signing with Texas and he spent two years with the Longhorns before transferring to MSU. Now, as a senior for the Racers, he is the fan favorite everyone expected him to be.
The circuitous path he followed to Murray, Kentucky started on the playgrounds of Orlando, Florida – the land of Disney.
“It’s kind of funny, people come from all over to go to Disney World and the other theme parks,” Croaker said. “But to me, it’s just home. I’m like, ‘What’s so special about it?’”
Like most athletes, Croaker starting playing various sports at a young age. But he ran track and played football before giving basketball a try.
“I played wide receiver and I liked that,” he recalled. “I was fast and tall and I had good hands. But we did this drill where they put me in the middle and the rest of the team was all around me. The coach would call someone’s number and he would come running at me and try to hit me.
“Well, he called this one kid and he came at me and we hit helmet to helmet. I injured my neck and I decided I didn’t want to play football anymore. So, I concentrated on basketball after that.”
Croaker started playing basketball in fifth or sixth grade. He dunked on a regulation goal for the first time when he was 11.
“I used to work on it all the time with my cousin,” he said. “I was a big Tracy McGrady fan. I liked to watch him dunk and I wanted to be like him. So, my cousin would throw me alley-oops and I finally managed to get one and dunk it when I was in sixth grade. I was pretty excited about it.”
He went on to play at Jones High School for coach Jerry Howard.
“Coach Howard was kind of a hard nosed guy,” Croaker said. “He helped me transition to college He caught me wearing flip flops at school one day and gave me in-school suspension. He was always telling me I needed to protect my feet.”
Croaker was an all-state selection as a junior and senior. As a senior he averaged 23.9 points and was a finalist for the Class-4A Player of the Year award. He played in the 2013 Florida vs. USA Hardwood Classic, matching the best high school seniors in Florida against some of the best in the country. And he won the event’s Senior Showcase Dunk Competition.
“Coach James Kane recruited me for Murray State,” he said. “One of the times he came to see me the airline lost his luggage. We had a good relationship and I committed to Murray State. But I decommitted and went to Texas. I was a young kid and picking between Texas and Murray State… I’m sure most kids would pick Texas.”
As a freshman, Croaker started twice and played in 33 games for the Longhorns, scoring 15 points against Oklahoma. But he wasn’t happy and he transferred to MSU in the middle of his sophomore season.
“I knew that Murray State was where I was supposed to be all along,” he said. “Everyone says that your mother is always right and my mom wanted me to come here so bad. I already had a relationship with the coaches here, and I had been a big fan of Isaiah Canaan, so it was an easy decision for me to make.”
Croaker had to sit out a year after transferring and at the end of that year head coach Steve Prohm left for Iowa State.
“That hurt me at first,” Croaker said. “He was the main reason I came here. I wanted to play for him. I liked the way he let his guys play. But I understood what it meant for him and his family. So, I was happy for him too.”
It didn’t take long for Murray State to hire a replacement for Prohm as they quickly offered the job to assistant coach Matt McMahon.
“That reassured me because I knew Coach Mac and he knew the system,” Croaker said. “While I was sitting out I worked out with him before the games and before practices. So we already had a good relationship.
“And I really enjoy playing for him. He’s always enthusiastic and energetic and we play an up and down style. It’s always exciting and he’s there with a father’s advice if we need him.”
Last year Croaker averaged 9.6 points and 4.5 rebounds as he shot 46.7 percent from the field, 32.4 percent from 3-point range, and an anemic 51.9 percent from the free throw line. The Racers finished 17-14 as the team was decimated by injuries.
“All the injuries hurt us and it was tough having to play so many minutes because we didn’t have enough players,” he said. “It made us play slower too. But we fought through it and managed to have a winning season.
“And after the season was over I spent a lot of time working on my shooting. I came into the gym at night and I took hundreds of shots every day.”
All that work has paid off as Croaker is shooting 53.7 percent from the field this year, 40.7 percent from 3-point range, and 73.7 percent from the free throw line. And while the Racers are just 4-5 through nine games, they have played a tough schedule and they have been in every game.
“We just have to find a way to finish games at the end,” he said. “We’ve been right there in every game. It’s not like we’ve been blown out. The schedule has been tough but that will get us ready for conference play. We’re capable of being a very good team if we all come together and figure it out. I know I can get better and I want to work on making better decisions, making better reads, especially in transition.”
In high school they called Croaker the Human Highlight Reel after Dominique Wilkins. His teammates call him Jump Man now. Both fit. And if all goes well, there will be plenty of highlights as he helps lead the Racers in their pursuit of an Ohio Valley Conference championship.