By: Tiffany King
October 26, 2022

The Best Spring of His Life

Joe Cravens’ best year in college was his sophomore year at Brunswick Junior College in 1974, when student enrollment was 800 to 900 students, and everyone knew everyone. Cravens graduated from BJC that year and went on to have a storied career in athletics, holding head basketball coaching positions at Weber State University, the University of Idaho, the University of Utah, and St. Joseph Catholic High School in Ogden, Utah. Cravens looks back on his time at BJC fondly and the life lessons he learned.

Cravens is originally from Scottsburg, Indiana, and was recruited to play basketball at BJC by then Men’s Basketball Head Coach Bob Woodward. Woodward, being from Louisville, Kentucky, south of Scottsburg, would visit his hometown and Scottsburg to recruit players.

“My high school coach (Jim Barley) came to me one day. It was the spring semester of my senior year and I really wanted to play college basketball. Scottsburg is a town with two stoplights and about 6,000 people—it wasn’t a hotbed for recruiting,” Cravens said. “He said this coach from Brunswick Junior College is coming through here, and there had been two players from Scottsburg who went to BJC before me. I came because of Coach Woodward.”

Cravens described his time at BJC as “a very formulative time in my life.” Going away to college was a difficult adjustment coming from a small town. At the time, there were no dorm rooms on campus and Coach Woodward arranged housing for his players. Cravens and his teammate stayed in a small, one-bedroom apartment which was converted from a lawyer’s office.

“Being 850 miles away, I couldn’t go home on the weekends. I didn’t get to go home until Christmas. We didn’t have a phone in our apartment. There were no cell phones back then and no email. I would go to the corner of Altama, where there was a payphone and call home collect on Sunday nights. I was very homesick. I was just a small town, country kid in a whole new environment. I almost didn’t make it,” he said.

Scottsburg was a rural, farming community with very few minorities—Hispanic agricultural workers, but no African Americans. He was then part of a campus community that included African American athletes and students.

“My very first day on campus I met another freshman from Savannah High, a 6-foot-5 African American male, and he had just gotten back from Vietnam. We were literally from different worlds and we became great friends and teammates. It was an amazing thing,” Cravens said. “Coach Woodward melted us all together—people from different environments, different cultures.”

Although his first year was tough, Cravens was able to push through his homesickness to return to BJC for his sophomore year. He returned to campus now knowing other students and asking how their summers were. Cravens realized that a whole new chapter began in his life. He went from struggling as an individual and player to having a great year—both personally and with the team. Cravens felt like he hit his stride and the team had an outstanding season.

Springtime Fun

Cravens made a lot of friends on and off the court. His fondest memory is of the time he spent with friends during the spring quarter of his sophomore year. He had gotten most of his academic courses completed, except for speech and water safety courses.

“I was getting out around 11 a.m. and almost every day we all went to the beach out on St. Simons Island. We had a place right in front of the King and Prince hotel, where we would be on the beach and sneak up and be in their pool,” Cravens said. “We would come home at the end of the day, and many nights after showering up, would go back out. There were three or four little bars out there and we would go play pool. The very first video game I remember playing was Pong and we would play Pong for a quarter. That was just a carefree time in my life. That spring at BJC may have been the best spring of my life.”

Cravens went on to play at the University of Texas at Arlington after earning his associate degree from BJC. He remarked that although he later earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, the only formal graduation ceremony he participated in was at BJC. He remembered donning his cap and gown, and walking across the stage to then President Dr. John Teel.

Honored for Coaching

What Cravens experienced as a player at BJC influenced his own coaching career over the span of 35 years.

“I looked back at some of the things Coach Woodward did technically on the court for teaching. I think he was outstanding. He may have been even a little ahead of his time for the things he was doing. He was just a really classy guy. When we travelled, he made us dress up. We had these pullover sweaters and shirts. We had to look nice when we travelled and had to act right,” Cravens said. “Me and a whole lot of guys owe a lot to him. He had very successful teams there, and looking back on it, not a lot in terms of budget and finances. He operated much on a shoestring budget.”

Experiencing homesickness himself in college made Cravens more aware and adept in helping his freshmen players who felt homesick. Many would come into his office, feeling as if they were alone in the feeling, when that was far from the truth. His experience helped him encourage players who were going through the same thing.

In April, Cravens received the Coach of Merit honor at the 2022 Spring Honor and Awards Banquet for the Utah Sports Hall of Fame. He was inducted for not only his coaching in both collegiate and high school basketball, but also for his time as a men’s basketball analyst on the MountainWest Sports Network. Cravens was very honored and humbled by the recognition, but what he’s most proud of in his coaching career is having approximately 90 percent of his players graduate with a college degree.

“I’m very proud that I was able to take a lot of kids, whose families have never gone to college, and get them through with a degree,” he said. “Education was big to me. I always tell people that I got into coaching not for the notoriety, but to be the same influence on young people that Jim Barley and Bob Woodward were on me.”

His advice for alumni and students is that to be successful in any career, you have to work very hard, be humble, and not be afraid to take small steps. One has to start at the bottom, be willing to put in the time, and work their way up, he said.

“There’s two things sorely lacking in our society—work ethic and loyalty,” Cravens said. “I think loyalty is a lost characteristic of society, and that goes for any endeavor, environment, and career. People appreciate loyalty.”

Overall, his proudest accomplishment are his two daughters with wife Linda. One is an actress in Chicago and the other works for the Colorado Rockies.

“I’m proud of the type of people they are—hardworking people. My younger daughter and I completed an adventure, where we’ve been to every major league park. As you get older the things you’ve accomplished professionally diminish compared to what you’ve done as a parent and husband,” Cravens said.

Lasting Memories

Cravens will always regard being at BJC as a special time in his life. Playing with Alexander Mitchell, James “Blondie” Fletcher, Floyd Phoenix, and others; trying deviled crab for the first time; getting a tan on the beach; forming enduring relationships; and coming into his own. BJC helped set up Cravens for infinite possibilities.

 “After getting through a tough first year, it opened my eyes to this great adventure, to try new things, experience new things,” Cravens said. “I had a great career there.”