D-I player without right hand 'pretty inspirational'

Jeff Goodman, Foxsports
CEDAR CITY, Utah - It was a conversation with which Dax Crum was all too familiar.
Southern Utah University coach Roger Reid had called Crum into his office. And Crum knew exactly what was coming.
"I told him he could come out for the team, but the chances of playing were very, very slim," Reid said. "In my mind, I didn't think there was any chance he'd ever play. No way."
Meet Dax Crum
Southern Utah provided us with , in which Dax Crum played 16 minutes, hit a 3-pointer and managed to make the opposition forget he was born without a right hand.
However, a half season into Reid's tenure at the school, Crum, who was born without a right hand, has forced his coach into playing him significant minutes.
The 6-foot-2 senior guard logged a career-high 16 minutes, made a 3-pointer and slowed down Missouri-Kansas City's leading scorer, Dane Brumagin, for much of the second half in a 63-60 loss earlier in the month.
"I've coached this game for a long time and they ought to build a monument of him," Reid said. "Dax is all about defying the odds and playing for the right reasons."
Crum was born without nearly his entire right hand. Just a tiny finger sticks out of his nub and is barely noticeable. Crum's parents were given the option of transplanting a toe to act as another finger, but they declined due to concerns with post-surgical rejection.
It's crazy, but many opposing players, coaches and fans are often shocked when told of Crum's handicap after watching him play or practice. UMKC sports information director James Allen was completely unaware throughout the entire game. Southern Utah assistant Ron Carling's wife had no idea after watching Crum play for nearly three weeks.
"Honestly, you can't even really tell he has a disability," said Brumagin, who is averaging 18.6 points per game. "You've got to treat him like everyone else. He's playing Division I basketball and he's a good player. He was right up there with anyone else who has guarded me this year, but he's pretty inspirational. It's amazing."
Crum, 23, was nudged into playing sports by his father, Richard, a former star at Kirtland Central in New Mexico.
"Honestly, when Dax was born, I was angry with God," Richard Crum said. "How can you send me a one-handed boy when you know my sons are going to be athletes?
"But he's taught me that you can do anything," he said. "He's changed my life in so many ways."
Richard and Valerie, who died of cancer a little more than three years ago, decided to go with shoelaces instead of taking the easy way out and buying Velcro sneakers for their son. Four-year-old Dax wasn't allowed to go to school until he was able to tie them on his own.
Once Dax figured it out, his two grandfathers were called into the room.
"Dax sat down in the middle of the floor and at the end, two old grandfathers had tears streaming down their eyes," Richard Crum said. "One of them, a World War II Navy veteran, said, 'You're my hero.'"
Dax Crum could have taken a Division I soccer scholarship, but he was determined to play D-I basketball. And he is. (Deb Hill / Special to FOXSports.com)
Not everyone was as supportive. Richard remembers one woman asking him to take his son away because Dax was scaring her daughter. Another wanted him to have Dax put his arm in his pocket. Little boys stared. Little girls squealed.
Richard and Valerie resisted hiding his handicap.
"It was an awkward situation," Richard said. "But for me to do it would have sent the wrong message."
Crum persevered, especially with his passion on the basketball court, where he earned all-star honors at BYU's camp when he was 12. However, the coach the following year hardly played Crum.
"They treated me like I was 3 years old," Crum said.
His father made certain that wasn't going to happen again. He took a teaching position at Kirtland Central and was also an assistant on the basketball team. When Dax wasn't in the high-school gym with his father, the two of them were in the nearby church working on his game.
Crum became a first-team all-state player at Kirtland Central, winning three state titles, and also starred in soccer, baseball and track. After either the second or third state crown, father and son just smirked at each other when the public address announcer asked everyone to give Crum a hand.
"The irony of it was huge," Richard Crum said. "I just nodded at Dax and he winked back at me."
Despite his success on the hardwood, there were no Division I suitors coming out of high school. He played two sports at Arizona Western Junior College while on a soccer scholarship.
Crum started the second half of his sophomore season for an Arizona Western team that was ranked No. 1 in the country and finished 31-3.
"When I first got there, it was 'good for him,'" Crum said. "Then I started taking some of their playing time and some of them weren't so happy. Nobody likes being beaten by the one-handed kid.
"There were some guys who loved me and others didn't think I deserved to be on the court," he said. "I heard guys saying, 'How good can you be? Dax took your spot.' I just let it go. I just go out and play."
After his two-year stint at Arizona Western, Crum turned down a D-I soccer scholarship at Dayton for an opportunity to play basketball as a walk-on at Southern Utah.
"I wanted to be a Division I basketball player," Crum said. "I wanted to do something that no one has done."
Crum played sparingly two seasons ago under former coach Bill Evans. He redshirted last season and wound up on the football team — as a kicker/punter who also played some cornerback.
Shortly after Reid, who spent seven seasons as the head coach at BYU from 1989-97, took the reigns, Crum decided he wanted to give it another try in his final season of eligibility.
That's when Reid did everything in his power to shoot down the idea.
"I don't blame him. Every coach I've ever had worries about the same thing," Crum said. "If I put him on the floor, are they going to take advantage of him? I wonder if I was coaching me, would I put myself in the game?"
Then Reid watched Crum outwork all of his teammates in practice.
It's a remarkable sight, how much passion and energy he displays when he's on the court. His nickname at Arizona Western was "The Pest." At Southern Utah, they've dubbed him the "Dax-inator" because of his unwavering defensive prowess.
"It's a good thing now," said Southern Utah assistant Austin Ainge, who played against Crum when he was a player at BYU. "I like it as a coach, but I hated it when he was guarding me.
"The amazing thing is he can still go right," said Ainge. "He finds a way. He's clever."
In addition to his pestering defense, Crum is somehow able to make shots with consistency. He rests the ball on his nub, uses his left hand to shoot and is a legitimate 3-point threat with a quick release. He rarely drops a pass and his teammates are unable to take the ball away from him in practice despite only having one hand to dribble the ball.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't know he had one hand for the first three days," said Southern Utah senior forward Tate Sorenson. "He handles himself pretty good and it's not just a charity case. He can play."
"He's the best perimeter defender we have," Carling said.
Crum is also extremely open and light-hearted. One time prior to a soccer game, he walked out for rock-paper-scissors, which would determine what team started the game with the ball. When both players threw out their hands, Crum tossed out his right hand and chuckled.
At times when he's dribbling the ball up the court, he'll hold up his hand with the one finger, smile and yell "Four" to call a play. Crum still gets a kick out of opposing players' reactions in the postgame handshake line.
"It's funny," Crum said.
"He's the first one to make a joke about it," Sorenson said.
The letters have come in from young children and adults. One man lost his arm in a farm accident and wanted to know how Crum does everything. Others want to know how he cuts steak or ties his shoes.
"It just takes me a little time to figure it out my way," Crum said.
Crum is married, has a 3.7 GPA and is working on his MBA. The plan is for him to go into the financial world for a while — at least long enough to support wife Ashley's medical schools bills — before he goes into coaching.
Crum, who worked three jobs until he was given a scholarship by Reid for the second semester, didn't get off the bench in eight of the team's first 13 games.
"The past three years have been rough," Crum said. "I haven't really played. I'll go into a game for one or two minutes, have a turnover and say, "Why am I doing this?'"
Crum knows the answer.
"You work for a couple years just to get a chance," Crum said. "Once you get a chance, it's like, 'Wow.' Just those 16 minutes against UMKC were worth it all to me. That's how much fun it is."