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The Grateful Dead made a song about what Brian Crow has done in the past year. Something about what a long, strange trip it's been.

There are a lot of places to start but we might as well start with The Phone Call.

Five weeks ago Sonoma State University men's basketball coach Pat Fuscaldo received a voice message on his cell. It was from Kevin McKenna, assistant men's basketball coach at the University of Oregon. Call me. Fuscaldo practically jumped out of his skin in anticipation, which is unusual in itself, as Fuscaldo can't jump.

"Great," Fuscaldo thought to himself. "Oregon is calling to get a game with SSU next season."

Instead, McKenna asked, "What can you tell me about Brian Crow?"

Oops, Fuscaldo thought to himself, I didn't see that one coming. Not even from a mile away.

A year earlier Crow had left Sonoma State. He had played for SSU his freshman and sophomore years, loved the experience, loved his teammates, but as Fuscaldo said, "Brian always had this thing for Oregon."

Born in Santa Rosa, lived a bit in Rohnert Park, the Crow family moved to Marin and Crow played basketball for Novato High School. He played basketball against Sonoma County schools like Petaluma, Santa Rosa and Elsie Allen. Crow knew the area, loved it, but wanted to be farther away from home than 20 minutes, at a place that wasn't as familiar as the back of his hand.

"I like the rain," Crow said, "and I wanted to go to a high-level Division I program."

"But the chances will be slim that you'll play," said Fuscaldo, noting there's a big difference between Division I and Division II college basketball.

"I'm not going to play," Crow told his coach. "I'm going there to study. I want to sit in the stands and root on Oregon's teams."

On Wednesday, Crow amplified that last paragraph.

"I retired from basketball at the age of 20," he said.

His physical dimensions made that decision attractive. Crow is 6-foot-6, 220 pounds. He's a tweener, not small enough and quick enough to be a guard but not big enough to push 7-footers out of the way.

Fuscaldo told McKenna that Crow was a quick study, very coachable, not afraid to shoot, not afraid to throw his body about. Fuscaldo had only two reservations. One, how good of shape could he be in after taking a year off from the sport? Two, would Crow dedicate himself completely? Crow had moments at SSU of less-than-intense commitment.

McKenna thanked Fuscaldo. He had enough information. He had just received an email from Crow asking to be given a tryout at Oregon as a walk-on. Crow gave Fuscaldo as a reference. How Crow arrived at the decision to send Oregon an e-mail answered satisfactorily the two concerns Fuscaldo had.

Crow had spent most of the summer at an on-campus gym working out twice a day. Was he doing it to prepare himself to be a walk-on?

"I honestly don't know," Crow said. "I was missing basketball. I just wanted to get in shape."

To get in shape? That's all?

"Yep," said the senior, who is majoring in business.

As for his dedication, Crow found that a year off as a competitor refreshed his desire. And that casual effort at a Division I school would not be tolerated.

Crow came to practice and worked out with the team. "I felt I held my own OK," Crow said.

Come back tomorrow, Crow was told.

Am I dreaming? he thought to himself.

Crow came back the next day, held his own again. He remembered meeting with head coach Dana Altman. He remembered Altman saying, "You can really help us. If you really want to do this, we'd love to have you."

Altman had Crow at hello.

"This just doesn't happen," Crow said.

Indeed. Now in his 20th year as SSU's basketball coach, Fuscaldo never had a Division II player sit out a year and then make a Division I team as a walk-on. This just doesn't happen. Except, this time, this rare time, it did. The Oregon coach is impressed as well with Crow's meteoric ascension from nowhere to somewhere.

"One day Brian comes on the court as a walk-on," McKenna said, "and then the next day he is going with us to South Korea."

McKenna is simplifying the time line for effect. The Ducks are traveling to Seoul on Nov. 8 to play Georgetown.

Last Sunday in an exhibition game against Northwest Christian University, Crow played nine minutes and grabbed a rebound.

"It was my first D1 rebound," said Crow, pausing for a second to savor the thought. Did he ask the Oregon folks to save the basketball for him, as a Major League Baseball player keeps the ball from his first big-league hit?

"Like they'll put the ball on that chair for me," said Crow, laughing to himself.

If this feels like someone else's life, well, Crow has to remind himself this life is his. In the morning he has moments in which he has to tell himself he has practice that afternoon. When he talks to friends in Eugene who have known him for the last year only as a student, their reaction is typical.

"Disbelief," said Crow, now 21. "They don't believe any of this happened. They tell me it couldn't have happened. They say I can't do this. And then I think: Have I? Am I going to wake up from this dream?"

Crow's not on scholarship. He may never be on scholarship. He may play. He may never play. He didn't get to keep his first rebound. As if that's important right now. For him Crow just won the lottery and he's still looking at his ticket.

"I'm just happy to wear the jersey," Crow said.

In this age of chicanery in sports, where trickery and lies seem the rule of the day, it's not every day you can believe everything that comes out of an athlete's mouth. This is, however, one of those days.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.