Crafting a Legacy

By Kyle Rowland on November 6, 2012 at 10:00a

In May of 2009, then-high school standout Aaron Craft was verbally committed to Tennessee. Craft had already turned into a small-school legend in Ohio, helping lead Findlay Liberty-Benton to a state runner-up finish as a freshman point guard. 

Defense wins championships.

But his skills weren’t limited to the hardwood. Craft was a two-time All-Ohio quarterback and the Division V player of the year as a junior, the same season he led Liberty-Benton to a runner-up finish in the state football playoffs. As a senior, however, Craft dropped football to concentrate on his budding basketball career.

It was during the summer between his junior and senior seasons that Craft re-evaluated his college decision. Wanting to stay closer to home, he de-committed from Tennessee, and one month later he was a Buckeye. Ironically, one-time Ohio State commit Trae Golden de-committed and chose Tennessee.

As legend has it, Jared Sullinger, Craft’s AAU teammate, urged Ohio State head coach Thad Matta to offer Craft a scholarship.

“I like to give him a hard time because he didn’t want me at first when they were recruiting me,” said Craft, with a wide grin across his face. “But he had his excuses. It’s amazing to be a part of a university like Ohio State and the tradition that’s there. To have his trust and everyone else understand we have a good backing and we want to continue to try and be a great basketball team. It’s just really humbling.”

In the past 41 months, the fortunes of both programs – Tennessee and Ohio State – have changed dramatically.

It was a picture of Craft and then-Vols head coach Bruce Pearl at Pearl’s house on an unofficial visit that eventually led to the head coach’s firing. Meanwhile, Craft has thrived at Ohio State since he stepped foot on campus.

During his freshman season, Craft was essentially the team’s starting point guard, entering games at the first TV timeout and then rarely seeing the bench from then on. He was named the Big Ten’s sixth man of the year and was selected to the conference’s all-defensive team. The once-promising year ended in heartbreak, however, as the Buckeyes, ranked No. 1 for much of the season, lost to Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

Trust between Matta and Craft has helped the Buckeyes.

Three seniors were lost off that squad and many believed a golden opportunity at the Final Four, and possibly the national championship, had slipped through the Buckeyes’ grasp.

But with a veteran core of Craft, Sullinger and William Buford returning, Ohio State completed a memorable March journey that culminated in a Final Four berth. Even that had a sour end, though.

“(The pain is) still there today,” Craft said. “Not that we want to dwell on it, but that should affect us. That should be a driving force. We didn’t come here to just play in Final Fours. You want to play in that next game, you want to play for a national championship. Year to year the people change, but the expectation is to get back to Atlanta and win two more games.”

Craft becomes an even bigger piece to Ohio State’s success this season without Sullinger, his running mate since their days at All-Ohio Red, and Buford’s shooting prowess. Forward Deshaun Thomas, a preseason All-American, and guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. also return to the starting lineup.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Craft said about the Sullinger-less Buckeyes. “It was weird in the summer not having him around. He came back around every once in a while. I think we have adjusted well to it. We will be a different team. We can’t expect to do the same things we did as last year because we have different people.”

Known primarily for his defensive skills, Craft led the Big Ten with 2.5 steals per game last year and was named the conference’s defensive player of the year. But his offense is undervalued. Craft shot 50 percent from the field, averaging nine points, 4.6 assists – third-best in the Big Ten – and 3.2 rebounds per game last season.

Surgery to repair a broken bone chip in his ankle limited Craft’s summer schedule, but once he was cleared to practice, the shooting commenced.

“At the core of it all, I have the same role as I’ve had ever since I got to college,” Craft said. “The only thing that might change a little bit is becoming more aggressive on offense.

“Coach (Matta’s) biggest thing is finding a way for us to win. If that means me shooting the ball more at times, then so be it. When push comes to shove, as long as the ball goes in the basket he doesn’t care as long as we play well.”

Aaron Craft Partyin' in the O-S-UPartyin' in the O-S-U

In Ohio State’s lone exhibition game last week versus Walsh, Matta used a variety of different rotations, including pairing Craft with sophomore guard Shannon Scott. But it was Scott who handled the ball while Craft dallied at the two.

Matta said he liked that duo, believing two point guards that can defend well should create more baskets in transition. They’re also able to get the ball to scorers such as Thomas and LaQuinton Ross.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m handling the ball or Shannon is,” Craft said. “Not too much changes. With the offense we run, a lot of guys are interchangeable.”

Scott, the son of former NBAer and North Carolina star Charlie Scott, came to Ohio State as a high school All-American. But he saw his minutes rapidly decline in February and March. In the NCAA Tournament, though, he played 47 minutes in the first three games, including 16 crucial minutes against Cincinnati in the regional semifinal. Scott had three assists in the win over the Bearcats.

Then when Craft fouled out in the final minute of the regional final against Syracuse, it was Scott that came in to handle the ball with Ohio State clinging to a four-point lead. The Buckeyes would win 77-70 to punch its ticket to the Final Four.

“It is good to have someone who can help the team like that,” Thomas said of Scott following the Walsh game. “He played really well and did not have to force anything through the offense. That is what we need.”

Scott finished with six points, two rebounds, two assists and a block. But the Buckeyes were generally a sloppy group. Laziness on defense and a lack of rebounding highlighted – or lowlighted – the night.

“I can tell you we’re not the No. 4 team in the country right now,” Craft said. “We have the potential maybe by the end of the year. We have some great guys. We don’t have it figured out yet, but we’re getting there.

“We will figure out our identity as a basketball team.”


Comments Show All Comments

Mi.Buckeye's picture

I know it is a long time from now but I would love to see this guy stick around next year as well.
I am only 10 helmet stickers away from being able to vote.

buckeyeEddie27's picture

If you're talkin about Craft...why wouldn't he?

I know there's a game Saturday, and my ass will be there.

tennbuckeye19's picture

I don't think there's any chance that Craft leaves early. He's not projected as an NBA draft prospect right now and I doubt that will change. He should definitely be back next year. 

yrro's picture

I'd be really curious to hear what Mike Conley Jr. would say about his ability to defend compared to a lot of NBA guards. Supposedly they go against each other in summer gym.

tennbuckeye19's picture

I would be curious to hear that as well. 

DJRoss926's picture

Craft's defensive game should translate well, he just needs to work at bringing his offensive skills up to the same level. Could you imagine if he can play offense just as well as he plays defense? Holy crap. 

dubjayfootball90's picture

Good piece. Slightly off-topic:
I was thinking about this, Buckeye hoops could do like a fundraising event for some charity, where the object would be that fans and attendees can pick a player, play a quick series or choose offense or defense, and try to score on/stop the buckeye hoopster they chose to go up against. All proceeds go to like breast cancer research or something like that. I think that would be sweet... Not sure why I just thought of it, but thought I would just voice an opinion... I would try to make it down to do that

You can feed a bobcat all the chili it wants. That don't mean it's going to crap out diamonds.

Doc's picture

Craft is so fun to watch.  I love his intensity and basketball smarts.  I'm hoping they can finally get over the NC hump while #4 is still in Cbus.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

RBuck's picture

Campaign theme song, Party in the USA. Debates opponent with Rubiks Cube in hand. He'll steal your vote:
Aaron Craft for president!

Long live the southend.

bhartman13's picture

Damn I cannot wait for Friday to see this team in action!  I sure hope Craft and Deshaun are ready to carry the load early on when trying to get some of the other guys up to speed.  It will be interesting to watch the development of this team because I agree with Craft that the Buckeyes are not the #4 team in the country right now but have the talent and ability to get there in the end.

Colonel Quaritch's picture

One of my favorite Buckeyes ever already in both football and basketball. 
Radnom question but is there a way to see what helmet stickers get you what because im having a hard time finding it. 

"The question isn't who's going to let me, it's who's going to stop me." 

LadyBuck's picture

Click on "My Account" and it should be under your user name and picture and that info in a gray box on the right.

Conroy's picture

It's always great to know you're watching an all time great Buckeye when their only half way done with their playing time at Ohio State.

Oakland Buckeye's picture

Thank you Bruce Pearl!!

zhamilton05's picture

I think it's hilarious when Craft is mentioned on a national list (best B1G players, best national defenders, etc.), invariably there will be commenters who spew venom at the kid! Like, "Craft is a cheating loser and I hope he breaks an ankle this season." No joke, it gets really nasty.
My standard response is to ask the commenter which, of the B1G guards that Craft demolished in his 2 years, is his son...because that's the only reason I can see for such vicious hatred. Aaron is everything right about college athletics - tough, competitive, and smart - and the way he annoys opponents is testament to his brilliance.

gobucks5413's picture

I think we are going to have to be a little bit patient early on this year....I'm willing to bet we will be a little lower than 4th going into January/February (i hope I'm wrong). I see this team really rounding into form come March when we need them too. It's always exciting to have a leader like Aaron Craft on your team, instead of the other guys.

thatlillefty's picture

Anyone know where I can find a #4 jersey online? For some unknown reason, they are hard to find. Which is ridiculous because it would probably be a top seller.

LadyBuck's picture

College Traditions has a website, and I do believe they sell #4 basketball jerseys. I know they do in store.

thatlillefty's picture

Thanks! Looks like all they have available now are XL+, but I contacted the site to inquire whether they will be re-stocking anytime soon... we'll see.

LadyBuck's picture

I've liked Craft as a player since I saw him at the exhibition game his freshman year. I'm glad that he's really evolved as a player, and I think he'll be able to score more than people think. Here's to another year of having him as a buckeye!

bukyze's picture

I like Aaron's candid statement, saying that OSU is not #4 in the country right now.  I couldn't agree more.  Another reason why preseason polls are pointless.  It would be nice to see the first poll come out at the beginning of January, right before conference play starts.

larzdapunk's picture

Aaron Craft singlehandedly made me a fan of OSU Basketball.  Quality guy with a capital Q. 
OK... Eleven Warriors had something to do with it as well. 

There are tons of these sites, and they also have Sully jerseys. I've seen a few in the $20 range so $20-$28 is the price range. These sites you can find the grey Braxton Miller jerseys and just seen grey Eddie George ones as well. I gambled and gt one and look just like the $70 ones on the usual OSU sites but they not have the name plates.

Pay It Forward!

thatlillefty's picture

alright, i just booked an order... feel a little guilty as it's obviously not offically licensed gear, but whatever. Thanks for the heads up.