Crawford is now averaging 16.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 31.7 minutes per game going into tonight's contest at Auburn. In SEC play, he's averaging almost 18 points per game. He is coming off a courageous 26-point outing at Georgia when he nearly collapsed from exhaustion after the game because he was out of shape after missing over a week of competition with his foot injury.
"He started to get in shape and started playing well," Gillispie said Tuesday. "I never questioned the courage he had. He's been tough."
Gillispie was optimistic that Crawford would be fine tonight when the Cats seek their fourth straight SEC victory.
"Joe looks like his feet aren't bothering him, but I'm sure they are and he's just playing through it. We won't know until game-time comes about cramping and those sorts of things. I assume he'll have some of those until he gets himself into fantastic condition like he was a couple of weeks ago. Whatever happens, we'll try to deal with it," Gillispie said before leaving for Auburn.
While some have speculated that Crawford started to play well when he bought into Gillispie's system, the coach doesn't think that is fair or true.
"If he had been healthy all summer and fall, he would have been playing at the start of the season like he is now," Gillispie said. "He's taken on a leadership role because he wants to win.
"As good as he has been on the court, he has been that good or better in practice, and he has been as good or better outside the locker room in his leadership role."
Gillispie said he would miss both Crawford and Ramel Bradley, UK's other senior, because of the sacrifices they have made in their first season without coach Tubby Smith on the UK bench.
"It's a tough situation to play for a coach three years and accept a new coach and have the right attitude," Gillispie said. "It says a lot about them."
Gillispie indicated he might have had to prod both players early to become the leaders he wanted them to be.
"One thing we try to teach is leadership," he said. "I do not believe that leaders are born. You've got to push guys. Usually they take the leadership and enjoy the responsibility. I am really proud of those guys."