Lions' siblings roar loudest at each other

Penn State: Opponents know Joe and Jon Crispin have hearts of lions on the court, but the brothers often reserve their most biting cuts for themselves.

NCAA Tournament

March 18, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - Sights and sounds on a basketball court can deceive.

Jason Capel wants North Carolina to run one play for him before his days are done in Chapel Hill, but he insists that there is no rift between him and the Tar Heels' All-America gunner, Joseph Forte. Besides, their on-court behavior appears positively cuddly compared to the barbs emanating from the mutual loathing society that they'll encounter in their South Regional second-round game today at the Superdome, in the form of Penn State's Crispin brothers.

Joe and Jon Crispin play hard, and critique each other even harder. They are the Cain and Abel of trash-talking, and there isn't a point they won't argue.

"We get on each other with a brutal honesty," Joe said, "but we have fun with it."

Tell that to the fans who sat behind the Penn State bench at Madison Square Garden in late December, when the Nittany Lions beat Hofstra in the ECAC Holiday Classic. Jon, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, was hit with a technical for arguing a call. Joe told him to shut up, and the two jawed at each other for several minutes on the bench, until coach Jerry Dunn sent the 6-foot senior back in the game.

"We get after each other pretty hard," Joe said. "The biggest thing is during the summer. We definitely get after each other then."

The summer routine out of the Crispins' home in the south New Jersey town of Pitman consists of daily games. Some include others from the area, like former Penn State guard Dan Earl and former NBA player Tim Legler. Some are simple games of one-on-one. Always, there is talking.

"It's tough," Jon said, "but you get a lot better. Whether it's one-on-one or two-on-two or three-on-three, Joe and I get to battling. We push each other hard. Sometimes I get tired of seeing him, and I don't want to go, but I remember that he's going to be there, getting better, so I show up."

For all of their legendary spats, Jon said that he has never come to blows with his older brother.

"Maybe a couple of pushes here and there," Jon said, "but nothing serious. Somebody always ends up walking away and leaving before it comes to that. You say forget it, and walk away."

The Crispins don't have bodies made for basketball, but they do have game, grit and good bloodlines. Their grandfather was a three-sport star at Temple in the 1950s. Their father played football and basketball for Villanova in the 1970s.

Joe wasn't considered a recruiting catch coming out of Pitman High, but he's averaging 19.8 points and has piled up 1,940 in his career, second all-time at Penn State. Jon endured a late-season shooting slump, but Providence found that he can take the ball to the basket Friday, when he converted a pivotal three-point play and a pull-up jumper on consecutive second-half possessions.

Joe needs five assists to become Penn State's No. 3 all-time in that category, and the first-born brother is the buttoned-down leader. Jon is the comic who includes a golf swing to his player introduction. Joe is reserved and religious. Jon sleeps in on Sunday, and is one of the best quotes in the Big Ten.

Joe grew up rooting for Duke, Jon for North Carolina, but they are united today in a quest to take down the Parade All-America team, aka the second-seeded Tar Heels. Seventh-seeded Penn State has already beaten five Top 25 teams and seven who won conference crowns. Included are huge victories at Kentucky's Rupp Arena in November, and another over defending NCAA champion Michigan State in the Big Ten semifinals.

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