Dani Craig had no intention of playing basketball again.
The former Iowa City West standout began her college career with the 2015-16 Cal State Fullerton women’s basketball team, where she started 27 games and averaged nearly 10 points a contest as a freshman.
Less than a year before then-Fullerton women’s head coach Daron Park had his contract bought out amid a host of improper conduct allegations, Craig became one of nine Fullerton players to transfer out of the program within a two-year period.
She returned to Iowa and was initially content to serve as a manager for the Iowa State women’s team for the 2016-17 season.
“I had a good opportunity managing there because another assistant at Fullerton was (Steve) Fennelly,” Craig said. “So I did that. Didn’t have any intention of playing and then just throughout that whole year when they were recruiting me, I finally decided that I didn’t want to sit on the bench anymore. I wanted to play again.”
While at Iowa State, Craig was recruited by another ex-Fullerton assistant, Karen Middleton, who was in her first season as head coach of Division-III Wisconsin-La Crosse. Craig enrolled at La Crosse for the 2017-18 season and made an immediate impact on the floor. She ranked second in points and assists as La Crosse won 16 games.
“I found someone who I knew would care for me,” Craig said of Middleton and assistant coach Jonelle Streed. “It was new to me now because I experienced something out in California that I wasn’t exactly happy with and then simply just having that care from a coach where I know she is there for me, no matter what, is very pivotal to why I am so happy here.”
This season has been a bit of a breakthrough for both Craig and Middleton. The junior guard leads the team in points (12.8 per game), assists (52) and 3-point baskets (47). The Eagles are 19-3 and entered the d3hoops.com rankings at No. 25, their first appearance in the Top 25 in nearly a decade.
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“She’s got great court vision,” Middleton said. “She just has tremendous experience, as well. We’re a team with no seniors and Dani, really along with Delaney Schoenenberger, who is also a junior, have stepped up big in leadership roles on the court, off the court. But Dani has just been incredibly hot from the floor. Not just 3s but she’s doing a great job of getting to the paint for pull-ups, but also putting herself in position for some good post-ups. She’s really developing an all-around game, working hard defensively, rebounding it a little bit better. Quite honestly, she’s doing a little bit of everything for us and being a great leader, as well.”
On Saturday, Craig set a school record with seven 3-point baskets as La Crosse also broke team and conference records with 16 3-pointers in one game. Craig — who was named the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference player of the week on Tuesday — still holds single-season records for 3-point baskets (51) and assists (121) from her senior year at Iowa City West.
The assist mark might be in jeopardy, however, as current West point guard Lauren Zacharias has 94 through 17 games.
“It would be awesome,” Craig said. “That is awesome that there are still players going through there that are sharing the ball. That is unseen in today’s game. It’s all about points and I think the point guard down there passing the record would be awesome. I love that.”
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