He was not at full speed during the summer and needed minor surgery on his knee when school started. That set his conditioning back.
"I was not in the best shape early. I had a lot of work to do," Crawford said. "I had not earned my playing time. Those other guys had been working all summer and earned the right to play more."
However, Crawford is the one earning accolades now. He's averaging 16.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He's hitting 46.7 percent from the field and 78.2 percent at the foul line.
Will play key role against Georgia
"He has been great for us. He has always been a really good player. Coming into his senior year, he was hurt all summer and then had to have surgery and got derailed at the start," the UK coach said. "He has been fantastic for us. He has made so many clutch baskets.
"In Saturday's game (at LSU) he made play after play. He has developed leadership skills on and off the court. It's great to see a guy finish so strong and I really do appreciate his efforts. He was just fantastic for us defensively against LSU, too."
Crawford likely will play a key role again tonight when UK hosts Georgia as he could find himself paired against red-hot guard Sundiata Gaines of Georgia.
Gillispie says Crawford is learning how to make his opponent catch the ball beyond the NBA 3-point line. That way Crawford, or any UK defender, knows his man will be driving inside rather than lofting a long 3-pointer.
"He's done a really good job making his man catch the ball outside his comfort zone," Gillispie said.
Gillispie acknowledges Crawford has made a "big change" in his overall play with his recent defense.
"His attitude has always been good. I doubt if he was ever defiant about playing defense," the Kentucky coach said. "He doesn't like to lose. It's nice to see them all trying to be that way, but he really takes it personal when a guy tries to score on him."
Effort and pride
Gillispie says it's important to note that Crawford normally guards talented players, especially in Southeastern Conference games, that likely will be future pro players.
"It takes effort. It takes pride, and he definitely has pride," Gillispie said. "He's guarded a lot of good guys in the conference and made it difficult on them. His pride is contagious, too."
Senior teammate Ramel Bradley says experience has also helped Crawford.
"He was always a very good defensive player," Bradley said. "He's just gotten smarter, so that has made him an even better defensive player. But he was always a good defensive player. Don't take that away from him just because he could always score, too."