Basketball coaches began noticing John Crowder when he was in sixth grade. By eighth grade, he stood 6 foot 7, was still growing and was ranked nationally. This spring he attracted the attention of college coaches along the Eastern Coast.
But in an all-too-familiar Baltimore story, a promising future for the forward from Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School vanished during an overnight shooting. Police found the 17-year-old bleeding in a yard in Northeast Baltimore about 1 a.m. Monday. He died of gunshot wounds a few hours later at Johns Hopkins Hospital, police said.
Police knew of no motive or suspects Monday afternoon. Roland Vent, one of his coaches in a Baltimore summer league, blamed the streets. "There is nothing here for a kid with talent," Vent said. "You need to get them away from here so stuff like this doesn't happen."
Vent said Crowder was "highly regarded" around the country and that many were trying to steer him away from the city's violence. But he had a rough upbringing: His mother died when he was 2 years old, his father was not around, two brothers were shot and a best friend was murdered.
After one run-in with the law at age 15, a Baltimore court order landed him at God's Academy, a Dallas-based basketball prep school. There he captured the attention of the local news media and was profiled in a 2008 Dallas Morning News article in which he said he wanted to play for the NBA and move his family.
"My family, they live in like a war zone," he told the paper, referring to his grandmother's house on East Baltimore's Kirk Avenue.
Crowder came back to Baltimore the next year and enrolled at Towson Catholic High School. He lived with his cousin, Brodie Crowder, and played basketball for a coach who'd known him since he was a boy. "A bunch of people were looking out for him and trying to look out for him," said Josh Pratt, the former Towson Catholic coach.
When the Archdiocese of Baltimore closed Towson Catholic last summer, Crowder transferred to Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School in Essex. He appeared to be thriving there athletically, averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds for the season. In April he told The Baltimore Sun that he'd received letters from the University of Maryland, Virginia Tech, Clemson University and St. Joseph's University. Summer plans included touring with the Nike Baltimore Elite AAU team.
"He had everything in place to be successful," Brodie Crowder said. "He had his grades. I felt like he was starting to understand it, and then he just back-slipped."
Six weeks ago John Crowder got in trouble at his cousin's house and decided to move back to his grandmother's place — the "war zone," where he could do as he pleased. Police found him Monday morning two blocks away, lying in the grass in a yard on the 2600 block of Garrett Ave.
"He was attracted to the streets," Crowder said of his cousin.