This article was written by Ryne Dennis for Online Athens. To view the original article, click here.
Tyree Crump is awaiting his breakout. Georgia’s junior guard from Bainbridge has had his moments; his ups, his downs. His sophomore season is a perfect example.
In the Bulldogs’ seventh game of the season, an 83-81 upset win over Saint Mary’s, Crump led Georgia with 17 points. A few weeks later, in the team’s 12th game, Crump never saw the court in a home win over Temple.
By the end of last season, Crump was making more of an impact, but his scoring output mirrored his minutes played by their inconsistencies. He hopes to make more of an impact when UGA starts its new season against Savannah State at 8:30 p.m. Friday at Stegeman Coliseum.
Through it all, Crump frequently posted pictures of himself to Instagram with uplifting words targeted toward one man — a man he wishes could see him play, a man he’ll never have the chance to meet. That man is Tyree Wilburn — his father.
Coping with loss
Shantell Crump was four months pregnant with Tyree when she got the call she’ll never forget.
“You weren’t expecting him to leave and you’re expecting him to come home,” Shantell remembers. “Then you get a call that he’s dead. That was very hard. And it’s still hard.”
Wilburn was shot and killed in Bainbridge in 1997.
Tyree Crump grew up without a dad, but he honors his late father with a tattoo of his name across his shoulders.
Atop his Instagram page reads the name: Tyree Crump-Wilburn Jr.
“They just say we’re so much alike and I take all that into consideration and I keep that in my mind,” Crump said. “My momma always tells me, ‘You’re just like your dad.’ I just sometimes ask myself and wonder what it would be like if he was here.”
Shantell often spots Wilburn’s resemblance in her son. She, like most of their family and friends around the small southwest Georgia town, have told Crump how much he and his father are alike.
Their smiles are nearly identical and their shy but somehow outgoing personalities match, she said. The similarities extend to both being great athletes and how Wilburn, like Crump, could pull up from anywhere within 25 feet of the basket and drain a shot.
When they look at Tyree Crump, they see Tyree Wilburn.
“He hears stories about his dad and the way his dad played ball,” Shantell said. “He looks just like him. When you’re looking at Tyree, you’re looking at his dad. He’s a spitting image of him. They’re so much alike.”
Though he never knew his father, Crump tries to imitate a man he’s always idolized.
“If he had a shirt on him and you needed one, he’d give it to you,” Crump said. “He just loved everybody. He was humble, sweet and just give anything for everybody, no matter the situation.”
Being the man
Shantell is aware of her son’s struggles when it comes to a life without his father.
His outpouring through social media is his way of coping, but it’s only a minor method of filling the major void he’s dealt with since birth.
“I know it bothers him and we talk about it,” Shantell said. “But he never expresses the way he really feels about it. But I see his pictures and see the tattoo of his dad and little stuff like that.”
Shantell never had another child and never married, and as a single mother she’s tried her best to raise Tyree with his father somehow in the picture.
“We visit the grave all the time,” said Shantell, who works as an admissions clerk at a hospital in Miller County. “We see the grave all the time when he’s here. We do birthdays, we do Father’s Day, we do all that. But you know, I’m sure he wonders what it would have been like if his dad would have been here.”
Shantell tried to fill the role of Tyree Wilburn, but there was still a missing piece in the family.
Around age 15, Crump attempted to assume the stronger family role when he told Shantell that he was going to be the man of the house because he didn’t have a father. That proved tough for a boy without male guidance.
“It took me a long time to find out what it takes to be a man, honestly,” Crump said. ”… I don’t know how it would have been, but if he was here he would have showed me the principles and stuff of being a man and what you need to do and stuff like that. But to be honest, my mom is really my father. She’s everything.”
At 21 years old, Crump still considers his mother the most important person in his life.
But a few years before he tried to become the man of the house, he nearly lost his mother as well.
A loving mother
Shantell formed Lupus, a disease that attacks the tissues and organs of a person’s body causing inflammation, when Tyree Crump was in the third grade.
They moved from Bainbridge to Atlanta for her to seek treatment.
“It was really scary,” Crump said. “She had gotten really, really sick, like deathbed type stuff.”
Shantell never believed she was facing death, but doctors told her shortly before they released her to return to Bainbridge just how serious it was.
Those close to the family certainly knew the severity of her disease, and even at a young age, Crump sensed just how close he was to being alone.
“I prayed for my mom and I’d sleep with my mom every night,” Crump said. “I don’t want to lose her. I had already lost my father. Losing my mother, I don’t think I’d be at the University of Georgia today.”
Once back in Bainbridge, around the time Tyree Crump was in sixth grade, his athletic skills began to shine.
At first he thought he’d be a baseball pitcher, but that didn’t work out.
He then fell in love with football.
“I played safety,” Crump said. “I think if I would have stuck with football that I could have come (to Georgia) for football. I was pretty good.”
Crump has ties with Georgia’s football team, adding that he’s good friends with quarterbacks Jake Fromm and Justin Fields.
But he has a special relationship with Georgia football coach Kirby Smart, himself a Bainbridge native who keeps tabs on Crump when he can.
“We talk to each other every time I see him,” Crump said of seeking out Smart when he visits the football facility. “I go in his office sometimes and talk to him. If he sees me he’ll stop me and mess with me for a little bit. So every time I see him we’ve just got that connection.”
After thinking for a second, Crump considered the talent currently on Georgia’s football roster.
“Right now I don’t know if I could do what those guys are doing,” he said.
Good thing, because basketball was his sport of choice anyway.
Crump would saunter through Bainbridge neighborhood pickup games and mix it up with those much older than him, often impressing with his toughness and shot-making skills.
In the seventh grade, he and Georgia teammate Jordan Harris, who from Iron City was just a short ride up Highway 84 from Bainbridge, formed a tight bond.
The two played on AAU teams together, and when Bainbridge played Seminole County in basketball, southwest Georgia shut down.
“During that time period, there were probably no crimes happening in the whole south Georgia area,” Harris said. “Everybody was at the games. I honestly believe we (made) an impact in the crime rate down there.”
Crump and Harris played basketball continually and the college offers began pouring in. Crump was down to Georgia and Florida State, a school just 30 minutes south of Bainbridge, when Harris convinced him that he’d fall in love with Georgia’s campus. Crump chose the Bulldogs.
Playing basketball was a way for the friends to stay out of trouble and away from the violence that took Tyree Wilburn’s life. Basketball kept them on the path that landed them in Athens.
“We both knew where we’re from and what it is down there,” Harris said. “We know all the temptations down there and we knew we had an outlet to get out. We held each other accountable and made sure we got out.”
Playing for Shantell
Shantell still lives in Bainbridge and tries to make it up to every game she can. She will be in Stegeman Coliseum for Friday’s season-opening contest.
As an incurable disease, Shantell still lives with Lupus though it has been under control for several years.
The Crump family, like Tyree’s first two years of college basketball, has seen plenty of ups and its downs.
But Harris knows that the downs would be much lower if not for the fight in Shantell.
“She’s the only person he’s got,” Harris said. “She’s the only person that he can count on. She’s a tough lady. I respect him and I respect her because she made a way for him. She’s amazing. She’s a positive person and she’s always going to have his back. Always going to have his back. Always.”
Tyree knows that as well.
That’s why, even though he wishes his father could see him play, he cherishes every moment his mom is in attendance.
“Some people don’t have mothers like mine,” Crump said. “Some people’s mothers don’t care. Just to see her in the crowd is a wonderful feeling. It brings tears to my eyes sometimes because I know our situation and what we’ve been in.”
That’s why he honors her with a prominent tattoo down his right forearm that simply reads: Shantell.
“I still am his everything,” she said with a laugh. “He loves his momma.”