Great Falls, South Carolina is a tiny town on a beautiful river, one you might miss if you blink too hard on a drive up Highway 21. The river’s proximity was a primary source of the town’s industries, but those industries started to fade as they were overtaken by larger competitors close by. Great Falls population curve followed along, with the town’s highest number of citizens (3,533) recorded in the 1950 census. Since then, the numbers have declined every decade, dropping below 2,000 when the census takers dropped by in 2010. Though it’s a beautiful place, it’s a town that’s been operating as an underdog for a long time now. They make it through by adapting their businesses and addressing the community needs, finding a way to stay solvent when so many towns of their sort go under.
It’s exactly the sort of town a kid might grow up in with a little something to prove. The town’s two most famous sports heroes, Major League Baseball pitcher Cal Cooper and All-American football player Banks McFadden, were born in the 1920’s and 1930’s. It had been a while since an athlete had broken out of that underdog mold in Great Falls, but you can see where it could mold the person looking for a challenge into something special. By the end of the 2009-2010 Great Falls High School basketball season, Great Falls thought they might have finally found their ringer in senior Torrey Craig, winner of the 1A state player of the year award.
For a graduation gift, Torrey tripled the size of the population around him (5,996) by simply going to college, moving 75 miles away to Spartanburg to attend the University of South Carolina Upstate. Craig made an immediate impact, starting as a freshman with averages of 14.4 points and 7.2 rebounds on the way to Freshman of the Year honors in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
By his sophomore and junior seasons, he led the A-Sun in scoring, garnering honorable mention All-American and first team All-Atlantic Sun honors. By his senior year, Craig cleared the career 2,000 point barrier during a 22-point outburst against East Tennessee State. The underdog kid had dominated much of his time in underdog schools against underdog competition. Where else could he go from there, but under?
Down under, that is. Craig’s talents landed him on the radar of the Cairns Taipans, an Australian team in the NBL. Torrey came out of the gates as hot as a pro, just as he had at the high school and collegiate levels, earning player of the week honors early in the season, and had a season-high 28 point game for the Taipans. He’d go on to play for several pro teams in Australia, wrapping it all up in 2017 with the Gold Coast Rollers. In the Rollers’ third game of that season, Craig would go off for 42 points and 12 rebounds in a narrow win over the South West Metro Pirates. To prove it wasn't a fluke, he had another 40-point game later that season. Funny enough, all along his career, Craig was known as much (if not more) for his exceptional defense than any of the offensive outbursts he recorded a long the way. He was a terror at both ends of the floor.
It only made sense that an underdog NBA team who had recently started making a habit of picking up and winning with a few underdogs of their own would see one Mr. Craig and make him a Summer League invitee. There’s a low-risk, high-reward sort of a bet on the guys who run that gauntlet.
And run it Torrey did. After being the one player to impress in every Summer League contest, your Denver Nuggets offered Torrey a contract to play on their G League squad, where he quickly gained the moniker, the “LeBron James of the G League”. When the Nuggets had him at camp with the pro team in the preseason, coach Michael Malone labelled him the “best defender on the roster”.
Since a call-up to the Nuggets on November 28th, Craig has routinely proved Malone right. In last week’s week-from-hell that saw the Nuggets face the Celtics, Spurs, Thunder, and Warriors in order, Craig ended up squaring off against the likes of Kyrie Irving, Danny Green, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, Russell Westbrook and Paul George. And that was before he spent time against the Warriors guarding Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson. All on the same night.
Torrey Craig has proven himself an invaluable addition and multi-faceted tool for your Denver Nuggets, one that the Nuggets can ill afford to send back to the G League. Not because he’s the feel-good underdog who’s made good, but because the Nuggets are a better team when Craig is on the floor. The Denver Nuggets keep saying they need those key parts around their core players. Looks like they may have found another piece.
Never fear, Nuggets Nation. Underdog is here.
Should the Denver Nuggets find a way to keep Torrey Craig on the roster the rest of the season?
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