Croft makes history with player of year honor

Sophomore also signs with UNI

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Tray Croft of Iowa Central was honored on Saturday inside Hodges Fieldhouse for becoming the program's all-time leading scorer.

March might be the month known for madness in the world of college basketball, but for Tray Croft, April will always hold a special place in his heart.

Croft was named the Spalding NJCAA Div. II Men’s Player of the Year on Thursday, adding to his first team All-American honors earned earlier this week.

He also committed to continue his basketball career at the University of Northern Iowa in the fall on Tuesday.

“Tray has had quite the career for us and is going to go down as one of the better players to ever play at Iowa Central, which is really saying something because there have been some good ones,” ICCC head coach Dennis Pilcher said. “With his athletic ability and work ethic, he took full advantage of his opportunity here to develop into a good player.

“He is one of the best players that I have ever coached.”

Croft becomes the first-ever basketball player of the year winner from Iowa Central. He was the fifth to earn first team All-American honors and the sixth overall after averaging a Div. II-best 27.5 points per game.

After breaking the school’s single-season scoring record his freshman year, Croft surpassed that total, giving him 1,626 points. He finished this past year ranked second in field goals and free throws, along with eighth in 3-pointers.

The play of Croft helped Iowa Central on the court these past two years, and it might do the same in coming seasons, too.

“I think it has already been beneficial, as we’ve signed a couple of kids from Alabama and are recruiting a few more,” Pilcher said. “When you tell these kids that Tray Croft came here with two schools recruiting him, that gets their attention. It’s going to continue to be a big plus for us moving forward.

“We do a good job of developing basketball players by working on fundamentals, following our script and becoming better through hard work and your God given ability.”

Croft waited for the chance to sign with a Div. I school to become available, and once it did with the Panthers, he knew he’d found his next home.

“When I went down to play with the team in my unofficial visit, playing with them and talking to the coaches, everything just felt good,” Croft said. “Something in my body told me that UNI was the right fit. Their coaches stayed in contact with my coaches after that.

“It was very important playing on the big stage. Now, I’m one step closer to my biggest dream (of playing in the NBA).”

Northern Iowa went 16-16 overall this past season and 7-11 in the Missouri Valley Conference. They lost to eventual national champion Villanova, 64-50, and also faces league foe Loyola, who made the Final Four.

One of those three losses to Loyola was a four-point defeat in the MVC tournament. UNI also faced off against North Carolina and Xavier during the regular season.

“He’s going to get the opportunity to play a lot of basketball for them,” Pilcher said. “Tray’s a good fit because they need more scoring, and Tray can do that. They also need a playmaker, and Tray can do that.

“Tray is going to do what they ask him to do. He’s a competitive kid and he’s going to do what he needs to do to make them a better basketball team no matter what it is.”

Southern Idaho guard Charles Jones Jr. was named the Div. I player of the year and Collin Turner from Montgomery scored the Div. III honor.