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Crystal Dangerfield: Mighty Strong Guard

ByQueen Ballers Club|@queenballers| April 3, 2021
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Crystal Dangerfield is a dangerous threat in the open court. A guard with a quick inside-out game and much versatility, Crystal left her imprint on the league immediately, earning the 2020 Rookie of the Year title. But she still has more to prove in her upcoming season with the Lynx — and if there’s one thing we’re confident in, it’s that she absolutely will.

“If it’s not hard it’s not making me any better. And I don’t want anything that’s easy.” Crystal has said. And true to form, she delivered during her first season, despite a dramatic drop in her draft stock. Crystal was selected by the Minnesota Lynx in the second round of the 2020 WNBA Draft at number 16. And while many were shocked, Crystal did not let it derail her WNBA dreams.

“I really wasn’t too worried about how high or where exactly I went,” said Crystal. “I was just worried about the fit of the team, where I could see myself playing. That’s what every rookie wants — when they get to the league to make the team and know they’ll have some playing time.”

Ultimately, it fueled the 5’5″ guard out of the University of Connecticut to be better. She set out to soak up everything from veteran players like a sponge. And to make her mark among the best of the best guards in the league. 

She ended the 2020 season ranked 11th in the league in scoring, and third in free-throw percentage, while starting 19 of her 21 regular-season games. Crystal put in the hard work ahead of time, so that when the opportunity arose, she would be ready, and rise to the challenge. She was able to establish herself and lead the Minnesota Lynx (a team that was also missing Odyssey Sims until late in the season) to a 14-8 record, earning the fourth best spot in the league.

So today, we’re going to take a look at Crystal Dangerfield and what she brings to the WNBA on the court and off. We’ll explore her basketball evolution, including her go-to moves, strengths, opportunities, and so much more. Her time is now, and you’ll quickly see she’s well equipped to prove that her rookie season was just the beginning to what we can expect for the future.

Crystal Dangerfield’s basketball evolution

Crystal Dangerfield was born May 11, 1998 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee to Christopher and Davonna Dangerfield, and is the youngest of three children. She has an older brother, Komar, and one older sister, Brooke. Lucky for us, she began playing basketball when she was 5 years old.

And by the time she reached the fifth grade, she was a diligent student of the game, intent on playing college basketball. For years, Crystal re-watched her own play — sometimes as early as the minute she got home. That meant that during her seasons, there were often nightly debates, as her mother Davonna tried to get her to stop watching the game film and rest, both her eyes and mind.

But Crystal was content to put in work, because she already knew it was going to be her unique advantage. She’d never be the biggest or strongest athlete on the floor. But she knew she could be quicker; know the best passing lanes against each team; and outwork her opponents.

Crystal’s high school beginnings

A few years later, Crystal began attending Blackman High School and set out to make her mark across 129 games. There, she joined varsity right away and became a four-year starter, winning State Championships in 2015 and 2016, while running the point. Crystal was named Miss Tennessee in her junior year and repeated the feat her senior year.

She was also named a three-time Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year, much to her surprise. In fact, when her mom informed her she had won the award, Crystal looked at her and asked her to repeat herself. She was also a finalist for the Naismith Prep Player of the Year Award and Gatorade national awards.

By 2016, she was ranked as the best point guard in the nation, and third overall of 100 women players behind Lauren Cox and Sabrina Ionescu. Crystal averaged 16.9 points per game; 3.9 assists per game, and 3.9 rebounds per game across her high school career. And her rebounds are revealing: lots of shorter guards don’t even bother trying to grab a rebound over a taller player.

Crystal also had 2.8 steals per game and scored over 2,186 points in her four-year career, including 171 three pointers made out of 564 attempts (30%). Plus, she scooped up 362 total steals and threw out over 500 assists. 

But even more impressively, Crystal didn’t limit her impact to the court. Off the court, she volunteered on behalf of her church, as part of a literacy-outreach program and as a youth basketball instructor. And also raised funds to benefit Alzheimer’s research and has promoted healthy living at nearby elementary schools.

“Crystal wants to be able to serve and make a difference,” Blackman coach Chad Hibdon said. “The awards and accolades are great, but to know she’s making a difference in the community is even better.

USA Basketball time well spent

Meanwhile, Crystal was also beginning to make a name for herself with USA Basketball, winning a gold medal in 2013 and again 2015. “Just being able to work on different things in competition in the summer and not just hanging around and being able to travel is cool.” she said of her experience.

Her totals while playing were 25 games, while starting in 12 games. She averaged 21 minutes, during which she banked 7.7 points per game. In total, she achieved 71 assists, 38 turnovers, 1 block, and 39 steals. And that time spent playing on Team USA absolutely helped her prepare for her time at UConn, where she was soon recruited to join Coach Geno Auriemma’s standout huskies.

UCONN, here Crystal comes

Throughout her high school career, Crystal had her gaze fixed on the Tennessee Lady Vols, because she wanted to play for the late Pat Summitt. “I was all set to (go to UT),” Crystal said. “I was always watching Candace [Parker] and the teams that she was on then.” But by the time she started getting recruited, Summitt had retired and other schools were after her.

Working through a list of six schools, including the University of Tennessee (who had been in contact with her and watched her at an open gym during the evaluation period), Crystal only initially visited three. Eventually UConn became number four. And once Crystal made her visit, she knew that was where she wanted to be. “Coach Auriemma knew my desire in college and knew that I wanted to win and that was a selling point for me.” shared Crystal of her decision.

Crystal arrived at UConn in the fall of 2016. The start of her college career came on the heels of the Huskies winning four straight NCAA Championships, riding high with the likes of Breanna Stewart and company. But Crystal’s freshman season quickly became a lesson in how she could push herself further. In retrospect, she has described the year as a year of “two steps forward, five steps back.”

She started just 6 of her 31 games that season, achieving a field-goal percentage of 40.33%, and shooting 31.71% from three-point range, scoring 188 total points. Ultimately though, she aided UConn to a 36-1 record, the NCAA Final Four and the American Athletic Conference Tournament, plus a regular season title. And in the second game of the season against Baylor on November 17, 2016, she scored a career high of 19 points.

However, Crystal shot just 59.3 percent from the free throw line and – from the first game to the last – wasn’t successful or necessarily trusted in late-game situations. Later in the season during the Final Four, UCONN lost to Mississippi State on a buzzer beater in overtime, snapping the Huskies 111 game winning streak – a heartbreaking loss, as the team looked to continue their streak while snagging their fifth championship in a row. But she couldn’t dwell on the pain for too long.

Crystal Dangerfield’s sophomore year at UConn- A year older and wiser on the court 

By the time Crystal’s sophomore season rolled around she had reached a point where she could drive the UConn offense to greater heights through instinct as much as planned organization. She started and played in all 34 games, averaging 9.5 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. She also scored in double digits in 18 games, and set a career high in points against Stanford, notching 24 points and added 6 rebounds and 4 steals.

“She’s a different person now,” Coach Auriemma said. “Different person, different mind-set. She’s grown up a lot. She really has tremendous confidence in her abilities right now. She doesn’t question herself. She’s still young, but she’s grown a lot, and I trust her. That’s the best thing I can say for her.”

Again, she guided UConn to the NCAA Tournament. But on the big stage, they suffered another devastating lost to Notre Dame in the National Semifinal game on a last second shot in overtime – just as they had lost to Mississippi State the year before. This go-round a 36-game winning streak had been snapped. This was also the year that her teammates Napheesa Collier, Kia Nurse, and Katie Lou Samuelson departed for the WNBA.

Meanwhile behind the scenes by this point, it’s worth noting that Crystal had undergone multiple hip surgeries, and suffered through shin splints, all the while pushing through.

Crystal Dangerfield’s UCONN senior year leadership

After three years of the NCAA Championship crown eluding UCONN, Crystal’s final shot to win the championship fell short when the season was interrupted due to COVID-19. Unfortunately the lack of the NCAA Tournament meant there was no ability to raise her stock for the upcoming WNBA draft, that would take place virtually for the first year ever.

Nonetheless, Crystal put on a strong showing all season long. She started in all 30 games of the season averaging 14.9 points per game, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.9 assists. She also scored in double digits in 24 games.

In March of 2020, Crystal rose to 5th place all-time among Huskies women’s basketball players in career assists. And today, she is second in the UConn record books behind Sue Bird with 225 single-season assists. Crystal finished her collegiate career playing 134 total games, scoring 1480 points with a respectable 44.11 field-goal shooting percentage and a 38.5 three-point percentage.

Crystal Dangerfield joins the WNBA: Minnesota Lynx- Right team, right system, right teammates

Crystal was once one of a few top guards in the nation at Blackman High School. However things changed when she was selected in spot 16. Most times that would derail the hopes of a player, and they would play down to a lower level and get stuck professionally. But not Crystal Dangerfield.

Her coach, Cheryl Reeve, was also up-front with Crystal about not intending to play her much at all at first. “I’m like, OK, you can let that bother you, sit, pout, just let it be. Or you can turn things around for yourself, try to go and earn some minutes and change their mind about what the situation was going to look like,” Crystal told Erica L. Ayala for the New York Times.

Crystal absolutely chose the latter. Crystal went out and had her a season as the rookie on the Minnesota Lynx as the point guard. From the jump, she wasn’t expecting to play as many minutes as she did. But due to Lexie Brown suffered a concussion in the second game of the season and Odyssey Sims’ return from maternity leave, Crystal quickly became the starting guard. And held onto that spot for the remainder of the season. 

After assuming her new responsibilities, she averaged 14.3 points per game, shooting 47.1% from the field and she quickly found herself in the running for Rookie of the Year. In August, she won Rookie of the Month for her record of 18.1 points per game, 3.5 assists per game, and 2 rebounds per game.

Crystal finished her rookie campaign as a member of the 2020 AP All Rookie Team, AP Rookie of the Year, ESPN Rookie of the Year and WNBA Rookie of the Year. Furthermore, she was the Minnesota Lynx’s leading scorer at 16.2 point per game.

So let’s take a look at how she got it done!

Crystal’s go-to moves

Crystal can do it all. Here are a few ways she’s tricky to guard.

1. Fast break buckets

Off the fast break Crystal can get to the basket and create for herself. Or she can stop short, and get the pop from inside the paint.

2. The pick and roll

Playing off the ball Crystal is so quick and fast that she can work off the screen and cut to the basket for the easy lay-up. “I didn’t know just how good she was, how fast she would be able to adjust and her decision making in the pick-and-roll,” Coach Reeve said of Crystal.

3. Driving

Crystal can create and use her quickness to get to the basket with a drive and slip under taller defenders.

4. The floater

To get off shots around taller defenders, Crystal uses the floater effectively in the lane.

5. The hesi

Crystal Dangerfield’s shifty stop and go is a big part of the reason holds the third-highest per-game scoring average ever for a Lynx rookie. The simple stop, crossover, and go is one of her go-to combinations for blowing by defenders. And she makes it look effortless.

Crystal Dangerfield’s WNBA stats

Crystal’s stats reveal her to be a strong player in every aspect of her game, with her 16.2 points per game and solid two-point shooting as stand out elements.

Crystal Dangerfield's WNBA stats

Crystal Dangerfield’s strengths

Crystal Dangerfield is true point guard, a reliable playmaker, and has en exceptional basketball IQ. She’s figured out how to be creative and get things done. Here are a few of the many ways she shines on the court.

1. Seeing the floor

Crystal has a keen sense of where the open player is. And as a point guard you have to have that ability, otherwise the offense is stagnant. These highlights show Crystal as a true point guard: finding her teammates cutting to the basket.

2. Speed

When the ball is in Crystal’s hands she is quick and has lightning speed – especially off the fast break.

3. Shot making

If Crystal can not find the open player when running the offense, she can create her own shot from anywhere in the paint. Crystal is a pass-first guard, but will always find her shot when her number is called. And she’s especially good at knocking down mid-range shots, delivering a 56% two-pointer percentage in 2020. And she has an uncanny ability to hit the deep, deep three.

4. Mental toughness

“She’s little in stature, but the size of her heart is massive,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “She’s tough. She’s unafraid. … She can miss a shot, she can make a turnover, but she’s coming right back at you.”

5. Steals

At seven years old, Crystal Dangerfield would stand at the half-court line as she waited to perform a simple defensive drill at the Boys and Girls Club. But once her opponent crossed the line she’d steal the ball because she couldn’t resist. And nothing has changed since then. She averaged .9 steals per game in 2020.

6. Investing in others

Crystal has always valued a sense of community, and building her team up. She knows that when she puts light into others, it shines back into her.

7. Work ethic

Crystal credits her parents for instilling a strong work ethic in her, since they went through US Army training. As a result, strength and discipline that’s both mental and physical was instilled in her from a young age. “The more prepared you are, the less mistakes you make.” she said.

Crystal Dangerfield’s areas of opportunity

Of course, being younger in her pro career, Crystal has some areas she can look to improve as she builds on her rookie year. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

1. Turnovers

“I have way too many turnovers so just seeing where I can cut those down,” Crystal Dangerfield said. “And even things that don’t result in turnovers — tipped passes that mess up the timing of a play, stuff like that.”

2. Freestyling space making

Crystal should continue to look to create one on one. The ability to create space against more practiced, elite, and taller guards will always be something she can work on. Crystal has to be able to continue to run the offense and not get stuck if an older defender is on her.

Crystal Dangerfield’s career highlights and awards

  • 2016 Morgan Wootten National Player of the Year
  • 2017 AAC All-Freshman Team
  • 2018 Third-team All-AAC
  • 2019 First-team All-AAC
  • 2020 WNBA All-Rookie Team
  • 2020 WNBA Rookie of the Year
  • Crystal has also won gold and silver medals with the USA National Team and numerous accolades from her Blackman High School days.

What is next for Crystal Dangerfield?

Crystal’s still chasing her dreams. Off the court, Crystal signed with PG Sports Agency and wants her brand to speak for itself before she even enters a room. And it looks like her work is again delivering results.

Crystal was named a part of Team Jordan this year. “It’s where my love for the game and my love for shoes connect!” she said. “I honestly can’t put it into words. I told them in my first meeting that it would be a dream come true. It’s a blessing. When you think of basketball, you think about MJ, all of the history, the great players and where the Jordan Brand came from. This brand sticks out the most to me. I love it.”

Crystal also hopes to continue to use her platform to support the Black community, beyond the social justice efforts she’s been a part of with the WNBA in 2020. “We have to give back, be present role models and help smaller Black communities, too. During my senior year of college, I learned a lot about food deserts and food insecurity. It’s important to step outside yourself and give back once you’re in a place to be able to do that.”

As for on the court, look out for Crystal to carry her Rookie success into this upcoming season. Crystal will play with a chip on her shoulder, because she still has more to prove. In 2020, Cheryl Reeve didn’t know what to expect, and sure didn’t expect Crystal to see as many minutes as she did. In 2021, Crystal has a strong case to be the starting point guard. And with the Lynx healthy, expect them to make a deeper run into the playoffs.

Up next, learn more about another incredible WNBA player’s journey, with a look at how Alysha Clark overcame imposter syndrome and became a two-time league champion.

Written by Shanitra J. Brinson, (@S_JanelleB on Twitter) a high school and college basketball player, with eight years of coaching experience across JV, Varsity and CYO. She’s currently the JV Assistant Girls Basketball Coach at Byram Hills High School.

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