December 15, 2021 

Providence’s Janai Crooms embracing new role in familiar place

Providence star is proving you can go home again

Janai Crooms chose to bring her talents back to the Ocean State.

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After graduating from St. Andrews School in Barrington, Rhode Island (RI), Crooms spent two seasons (2018-2020) with Ohio State before transferring to Michigan State (2020-21). The four-time New England All-Star and 2018 Rhode Island High School Player of the Year has now returned to her home state to play for the Providence Friars, with two years (2021-2023) of eligibility remaining.

Crooms has already contributed meaningful minutes for the Friars. Across 11 games she has notched five double-doubles. In the Friars’ most recent win against Quinnipiac, the junior guard contributed 24 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, one steal and one blocked shot. Her energy and presence of mind on the floor elevates the play of a young Providence team.

“She brings a ton of energy,” said Providence head coach Jim Crowley. “She brings confidence. The number of times I looked down [the court] she was calming people down. She embraces helping the younger players. You know, she’s seen a lot of basketball and at a lot of high levels.”

As an experienced upperclassman, Crooms understands the value she brings to the Friars. She has learned from upperclassmen throughout her college career and she knows it’s her turn to guide younger players.

“We have a really young group. A lot of freshman, a lot of underclassman. So something that I really hold myself accountable [to] everyday is just being a leader, being there for them on the court and off the court,” Crooms told The Next. “Other than that I just try to just play basketball and have fun with it because basketball is a sport that I really love and I’ve loved it since I the minute I stepped on the court.”

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Dating back to her high school days at St. Andrews, Crooms has always been a pass-first player. During her senior year she averaged 6.5 assists her game. The Cranston, RI native is currently third in the BIG EAST in overall assists (51) per HerHoopStats. She pushes the tempo on the floor and involves teammates in Providence’s motion offense.

“A skill that I really value is passing. I love passing the ball and getting my teammates involved,” Crooms said. “That’s something that like, I’ve always just loved to do, just passing the ball. Dropping a dime to my teammates is something I really like to do.”

Beyond her passing abilities, Crooms is also a skilled defender and has the toughness to drive to the basket and create her own shot. She is one of just two players in the BIG EAST Conference averaging a double-double and leads the league in double-digit rebounding games (seven).

“She is an extremely talented and versatile guard that can take over games with her abilities, competitiveness, and passion. Her size and toughness makes her a tremendous defender that can guard multiple positions and skill sets,” said Crooms’ former coach at Michigan State, Suzy Merchant.

Crooms’ contributions have filled key gaps left by the absence of Mary Baskerville, who has been out with an injury since November 28. (Providence declined to disclose the nature of the injury, and called her timetable for a return “day-to-day”.) Baskerville led the Friars in scoring, rebounding and steals last season, and her production is sorely missed. Crooms’ play-making abilities and toughness have helped to bridge the Baskerville gap, though, and the Friars are off to an over .500 start this season with a 6-5 record through 11 games. For a team that finished 7-14 last season, this is a positive trend.

Hometown heroics

It’s fitting that one of Crooms’ best performances this season came last Wednesday against cross-town rival Brown. Crooms nearly notched a triple-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

“It’s just different,” Crooms told the Providence Journal. “It’s an in-state rivalry and it’s always a good feeling playing against people you know and people you played AAU with…Just coming out here and getting the W in front of my family and friends and with my teammates, that’s all I think about.” 

Janai Crooms’ return home is not just an opportunity to play in front of family, including her cousin and Providence men’s basketball head coach Ed Cooley. It’s also an opportunity for her to add to her Rhode Island basketball legacy. Crooms made history books in Rhode Island as the first women’s basketball player to have her number retired from St. Andrews School. Her next chapter is still being written.

The Friars resumes BIG EAST play this Sunday with a home match-up against Creighton at Alumni Hall in Providence.

Written by Tee Baker

Tee has been a contributor to The Next since March Madness 2021 and is currently a contributing editor, BIG EAST beat reporter and curator of historical deep dives.

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