White Nightmare

By Ramzy Nasrallah on March 19, 2013 at 1:30p

This isn't a story about race. It's a story about understanding what lies beneath Aaron Craft's alabaster epidermis that makes him one of college basketball's very best.

It's about abandoning the laziest conclusions as to why his name is consistently brought up by analysts when listing the sport's top players. It's about translating what constitutes greatness beyond a stat sheet or a highlight reel.

And it's about shaping perceptions through sound basketball comprehension instead of skin complexion, because this isn't a story about race.

Granted, there are purely cosmetic traits that elevate Craft above the fray, but they aren't a function of his coloring: Craft never pops his jersey in victory or slaps the floor when game momentum is shifting. He doesn't trash-talk his opponents or bring his teammates down when he's in a slump.

As deliberately sterile as his behavior is, it's not what makes him one of college basketball's very best.

Right after he missed the last shot in Ohio State’s loss at Ann Arbor, Craft picked himself up off of the floor, found Michigan guard Trey Burke whom he had been attached to for 40 minutes of terrific, fast-paced basketball – and hugged him. But losing graciously does not make him one of college basketball's very best either.

Craft is a great player because he reduces great players to being good. He renders good players average and he makes average players awful. But that's his game execution; to understand what enables the command he has of his opponents you need to get beneath that distracting skin again, both figuratively and literally.

Over the past offseason it was discovered that Craft had played high school ball and then his first two years at Ohio State with a bone chip floating around in his ankle. It would cause stabbing pain in his leg during games (as well as not during games) which would only visibly produce what could best be described as a half-grimace and a slight limp.

When doctors went into his leg last summer to finally get it out they also found three bone spurs that had been caused by that chip repeatedly grinding into his tibia. He had to be convinced to have the surgery, stubbornly intent on playing through the pain instead.

Craft is a great player because he reduces great players to being good. He renders good players average and he makes average players awful.

So Craft is a tough guy, but not in some abstract fairy tale sense. He's just not big on excuses, either pre-determined or in hindsight. As a college junior he possesses the type of emotional intelligence necessary for any high pressure job post-graduation, let alone as a nationally recognized athlete. In that sense he's tougher than most of his peers.

He's probably tougher than you. He's definitely tougher than Michigan State guard Keith Appling. On Saturday during the B1G Tournament semifinal, Appling immediately took the floor jawing into Craft's ear and continued for the game's first ten minutes.

It's unclear whether the onslaught of trash-talk had any effect on his play, but it definitely did not distract or steer him away from his mission: Trick Appling into beating his own team from the inside. Coerce the Spartans to play 6-on-4 basketball instead of 5-on-5. The same plan had worked only a few weeks earlier.

Craft proceeded to make the talented Appling a liability for Michigan State for the second straight meeting. He turned what had been scheduled to be Buckeyes-Spartans into Craft-Appling. This only helped Ohio State, which was in foul trouble at every position but guard while being forced to deal with Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne in the paint.

The Spartans could have banged their way to the free throw line in a close game, but Craft turned off Nix and Payne’s scoring faucet without guarding either of them. He hijacked their feeder and erased a good player yet again. He also led all scorers with 20 points, had one less assist (nine) than the Spartans had as an entire team and stole the ball four times - but his value in the Spartans' demise wasn't on the stat sheet.

That's because Appling didn’t head into the United Center intent on hurting his team, yet he dribbled and shot (and shot, and shot, and shot) his way into doing so – because he was repeatedly goaded into it by the guy who had gotten into his head while inside of his jersey. Craft's complexion was simply along for the ride.

Because this isn't a story about race. It's a story about having a firm grasp on why Craft is so good.

The last time he turned Appling inside-out, Lansing State Journal columnist Graham Couch sheepishly credited him for having a great game before taking the lazy route and turning his focus to that alabaster epidermis:

I also believe Craft receives recognition beyond his abilities for reasons most are afraid to say — he’s a rosey-cheeked (sic) white guy. If he’s not, if he looks like Appling, I don’t think he’d be preseason All-Big Ten or featured in Sports Illustrated. That’s not his fault. But it’s the fault of writers who don’t necessarily understand the game or what he brings to it, but fall in love with his reputation and look.

Unfortunately Craft doesn't look enough like Indiana guard Victor Oladipo, the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year award winner this season. Nevertheless, Craft continues to reduce great players to being good, renders good players average – and now makes your average local basketball columnist look fatuous.

Opposing fans may resent Craft, but it's not because of his skin color. It may be easier to hate him because he's 1/4 Fillipino Caucasian-looking since overt sports villainy is enabled when the variable of white guilt is negated. But there's a very important – Couch might call it "overrated" – reason that white guys aren't universally despised or receive undue recognition in basketball: They actually have to be really good, too.

GRAHAM COUCH SENDS HIS OVERRATED REGARDSOhio State's over-rated guard with his under-appreciated head coach.

Craft has perfected the art of driving opposing fans and their beloved players crazy. It's equal parts physical ability, mechanics and game intelligence. He knows how to hand-check effectively and can take a charge without flopping.

He is one of the best lateral-moving defenders in the game and he fully understands both the player he's defending and what's happening behind him. For example, when Burke – who can blow by just about anyone – blows by Craft, he’s smart enough to steer the driving Burke toward the space where he knows there are a whole slew of other Buckeyes waiting.

And if Burke hands the ball to a less capable ball-handler, like Nik Stauskas, Craft immediately switches from contain into attack mode. He doesn't waste his energy trying to overpower physically superior athletes; he works to siphon their advantage from them instead.

Then when he has the advantage, he seizes upon it and goes in for the kill.

Craft's eyes sit just above his rosy red cheeks, but he has perfect 360-degree vision. Whenever the player he’s guarding raises the ball above his jersey number, that’s his visual cue to invade his personal space. When the ball is lowered below the waistline, Craft gives himself more room to guard against a drive – either to prevent it or to steer the player with the ball into a tree.

When Couch attributes recognition of Craft to a melanin deficiency or his adorable red cheeks, it's an open admission that he isn't trying hard enough to understand why his game is so celebrated. Couch has covered Michigan State for almost three months now, which might give him fresh insight into Craft's ability that tenured ESPN college basketball analyst Eamonn Brennan – who thinks Craft is the toughest and most well-rounded player in the game – simply doesn’t see.

Or Reggie Rankin, who like many other analysts believes Craft is the best on-ball defender in basketball. Or Florida head coach Billy Donovan, who doesn’t think Craft gets enough recognition for how good he is. Alas, if only he could be whiter.

Announcers do have a bad habit of saying that Craft tries harder than other players, which probably isn't true. Craft tries longer than other players do.

Announcers do have a bad habit of saying that Craft tries harder than other players, which probably isn't true. Craft tries longer than other players do. He is an every-possession headache who doesn’t take ten-second breathers or allow his mind to wander or stumble.

He can also fake a blitz and drop into space as if he were playing the Leo in Luke Fickell's defense. It’s why Craft's steals happen outside the arc, inside the paint, from behind, from the side and from right in front of your face with your mouth open. They just don’t occur above the rim.

It's trying longer combined with his superior court awareness which separate him from a virtuoso like Oladipo, who spectacularly picks pockets and pins shots high on backboards, but then also matadors several drives to the basket during every game. It's a story of highlights versus consistency.

Most of all, it's appreciating why one of college basketball's very best receives the recognition that he does. It's understanding how he still manages to get the best of his opponents despite being a well-studied player commodity for three full seasons now.

And it's about savoring every game he plays at Ohio State as not a talented white player, but just as one of college basketball's very best. Because this isn't a story about race.


Comments Show All Comments

WC Buckeye's picture

Ramzy, you've outdone yourself yet again. This is a brilliant testimony to WHY Craft receives so much attention, and it is SO overdue. Well done.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.

pompano buckeye's picture

Time to get back to work...time for just one more glance at 11W...Ramzy NAILED it!  Thanks for the great read.  I now have enough to make it through the afternoon!

“...indomitable in victory, insufferable in defeat.” Woody Hayes

RedStorm45's picture

This is what I've been trying to put into words to shut up everyone who looks at his stats and says "only 9 points a game? He sucks."

BammBammRiley's picture

Speaking of  of tipping points...as In the forum topic posted by andyvance, this is the type of write-up the country needs to see... I could see this a feature in S.I., or a special article to espn, NOBODY ELSE would of or could of hit this oh so extremely well like you Ramzy, sir. This would grab a hold of any sports fans interest, not just buckeyenation!

BammBamm is my dog, Riley is my 4 yr old daughter, and THE Ohio state Buckeyes complete the three most sacred loves I cherish

costinjr's picture

nail on head. this article should be widely circulated, awesome awesome read. Had no idea couch said that. Pretty wild.

dubjayfootball90's picture

This sentence is just so, 100% true. The truest of the True about the DPOY:

It's a story of highlights versus consistency.

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

BrewstersMillions's picture

Yep. And uncalled goal tends because its easy to get mesmerized by a fantastic leaper like V.O.

BammBammRiley's picture

Craft is how you want your kids to tackle sports, or should,I do at least

BammBamm is my dog, Riley is my 4 yr old daughter, and THE Ohio state Buckeyes complete the three most sacred loves I cherish

Roger's picture

Ramzy, I think "melatonin deficiency" should be "melanin deficiency". 

Earle's picture

Yes, unless Aaron is having trouble sleeping.

Have you tried Not Your Father's Root Beer?  It tastes just like the real thing, but it packs a punch (5.9%ABV).  It's a little sweet for me though.  Two is my limit.

Ramzy Nasrallah's picture

You caught one-half of an unfinished joke about "white nightmare" that I totally forgot to complete. /kicks laptop cord

AngryWoody's picture

Awesome write up. This is what separates 11W from a "blog".

Our Honor Defend!

jasonskaggs's picture

Bravo, Ramzy. An amazing write up.

ARMYBUCK's picture

Spectacular article Ramzy. Would this story be less appealing if you were melatonin deficient?  Would it be perceived as a white guy just pounding his chest because he finally has someone to represent him in the game of basketball?  Maybe... but this isn't a story about race.  You hit a home run Ramzy.

theobi's picture

Fantastic article. One of the best I've ever read. Bravo

gravey's picture

I think it's well past time for the main stream press to step their game up.  You're makin' 'em look like putzes Ramzy.
Pulitzer needs a new category or we should create one for best online sports journalism. 
11w and Ramzy would take home hardware like Thad Matta.

d5k's picture

Sort of reminded me of the iconic music video for the A-ha one hit wonder "Take On Me" which is somewhat appropriate for Craft's defensive style.

RedStorm45's picture

Never heard A-ha do it, but it's a popular Reel Big Fish song (which I guess is a cover? learn something new every day).

CSAR Buckeye's picture

Sure enough, Reel Big Fish covered A-ha.  I like their take on it, though...

BUCKfutter's picture

best article i've read from you Ramzy, which is saying a lot.  
also love the "sic" in the Couch quote - the ultimate journalism eff you.

the kids are playing their tail off, and the coaches are screwing it up! - JLS

dubjayfootball90's picture

what does the 'sic' mean? I feel like an idiot and I think i may kick myself for not knowing this.

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

costinjr's picture

I could be way off, but I think it means "thus"

dubjayfootball90's picture

Yea, I just saw that, tried to edit my original post, but my shockwave keeps crashing and my work computer sucks.
thanks though, appreciate it.

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

builderofcoalitions's picture

"Thus was it written", meaning that it was a mistake on the original writer's part.

Because we couldn't go for three.

BUCKfutter's picture

"sic" means you know there's a grammatical/spelling error in what you're quoting, but you're leaving it there because it was part of the original quote. in this case, Couch spelled "rosy" as "rosey", thus the "sic" from Ramzy.

the kids are playing their tail off, and the coaches are screwing it up! - JLS

pompano buckeye's picture

I could answer you and pretend that I am oh-so-eloquent...or post this link to Wiki... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sic  Hope it helps.

“...indomitable in victory, insufferable in defeat.” Woody Hayes

BammBammRiley's picture

Man I'm glad u asked and I saw it, was a microsecond away from finally googling it, I couldn't figure it out either and I'm seeing it quite a bit now

BammBamm is my dog, Riley is my 4 yr old daughter, and THE Ohio state Buckeyes complete the three most sacred loves I cherish

GR8TBUCKS's picture

(sic) means Spelling Is Correct; in other words the original author is being copied exactly and it is usually a spelling error but even if it is a grammatical error sic is used to denote it.


WolverineKiller's picture

I loved it when Nix or Payne was trying to post up Craft in the BIG Championship game, and Craft just sat on it and denied the entry to a man 8 inches taller and 80 lbs heavier. 

Just Win.

Squirrel Master's picture

Did you see him keep Berggren off the block with his post play? It was crazy how he could keep a guy out by just being more active and using his butt!
Sometimes you just wonder if the guy can defend anyone he wants. I'd like to see how he fairs against the great Lebron!

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

IBleedSandG's picture

Lol. Craft is the man, but I think LeBron would drive and dunk on Aaron just like everyone in the association.


LouGroza's picture

Nice to see Craft in great articles like this. Craft does his thing as well as it can be done until play stops as he waits for the ball to be inbounded to do it again. When a fantastic play happens he wants no glory or he doesn't stare at the crowd or find a camera for that "look at me" moment ala Oladipo. Instead he celebrates with teammates or gathers them in to strategize. It isn't about Aaron Craft to Aaron Craft. It's about the game and the team. That trait is very hard to find anymore and that is part of his aura.

builderofcoalitions's picture

Excellent post. Craft is maybe the best on-ball defender I've ever seen. He is a clinic on how it should be done.
That said, I do think he gets attention for being white. He's seen as a novelty, but I don't think this false perception should take away from what he's accomplished. I think you encapsulated this better than anyone, Ramzy.
Ironically, Craft gets the same treatment that black quarterbacks get. Announcers often comment on a black quarterback's athleticism or instinct. Conversely, white QB's are all savvy pocket passers. Of course, we all know it's not true, but analysts continue to perpetuate these stereotypes, much the same way they do for Craft.
Thanks Ramzy for poking yet another hole in the media's misrepresentation of our beloved Buckeyes.

Because we couldn't go for three.

jthiel09's picture

Brilliant article Ramzy. It's great to think we've got one more year to enjoy watching a young man who loves the game, plays it for the right reasons, excels in school and is a role model to young kids out there. We need more kids out there to approach the game (any sport), school and life like him.


bodast67's picture

sic [ sik ]   1.thus or so: thus or so, used within brackets to indicate that what precedes it is written intentionally or is copied verbatim from the original, even if it appears to be a mistake




     " I hope when I die, I die laughing"...                

741's picture

Thank god for the basement from which 11W sprung forth.

hodge's picture

Reading this was like watching Nick Naylor school Senator Chuck Finistirre on Dennis Miller in the film Thank you for Smoking.

Poison nuts's picture

Just to add my 2 cents, which is the same as everyone else's...this was a truly brilliant piece.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

Maestro's picture

I tell my 5 and 8 year old kids to watch how Craft plays the game to see the best example of what basketball is largely about.  Hustle from whistle to whistle.

vacuuming sucks

Brutus's picture

My 6 year old was just assigned a #4 jersey for his little league baseball team. He said "Cool, that's Craft's number." You can't imagine how proud I was.

German Buckeye's picture

So will Aaron have a life in the NBA?  Does the NBA draft 6'2 white defensive guru's? 

headina's picture

Nba and defense don't belong in the same sentence together. 


d5k's picture

Avery Bradley would beg to differ.

Right Again's picture

This is why 11W is such a good site.  Well done!

FLBuckeye's picture

Incredible article about my favorite Buckeye basketball player ever (I'm in my early 20s). I can't wait to watch what he does in the tournament to players that haven't ever played against him. I loved the havoc he wreaked against Cincinnati last year. 

Michibuck's picture

Outstanding, Ramzy. I always appreciate your work.

ArizonaBuckeye's picture

Excellent article, it depicted every aspect of why he's my favorite player. I couldn't care less if he's white, black, or orange. His game is what should matter. Unfortunately, not everyone will always see it that way and that's a shame. Regardless, I can't wait to see Crafty lead our Buckeyes through the Tourney. Go Bucks!!

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you." -Woody Hayes-

Earle's picture

I like "White Nightmare", but an alternative title could have been "What Lies Beneath".  And what lies beneath Craft's "alabaster epidermis" is a unique ability to get under the skin of opponents and their fans by simply playing the game the way it should be played: with intelligence, skill, and unyielding determination. 
Nice piece (again), Ramzy.

Have you tried Not Your Father's Root Beer?  It tastes just like the real thing, but it packs a punch (5.9%ABV).  It's a little sweet for me though.  Two is my limit.

Menexenus's picture

Couch = schooled.

Real fans stay for Carmen.

RedStorm45's picture

The LSJ should take note.

RedStorm45's picture

You can throw John Beilein in there as those singing Craft's praises ("best I've ever seen defensively).
This should be circulated around the country to discredit Graham Couch (and others) as lazy "journalists."
I've always looked at it that Craft is a "winner" in every sense of the word (look at him in H.S. in basketball and football - was all-state as a QB as well as the PG on the All-Ohio Red AAU team that won back-to-back-to-back national titles).  He's hard-working, yes we know that, but he plays very intelligently and never takes a play off, never backs down.  He didn't NEED to score in college a lot (so far) because he played with Sully, Buford, Lighty, Diebler, Thomas, etc.  As a PG, it is his job to facilitate.  So of course his offensive numbers aren't off the charts.  He affects the game defensively as much as, if not more than, a great shot-blocking center.  And to the idiots who think it's about race (which it's not), he just happens to be white (and as Ramzy points out 1/4 Fillipino).  If any player did what Craft does, and had all the same accolades, they'd be getting the same pub, regardless of skin color, religion, etc.  It's an easy cop-out to blame it on race.
I loved BTN's The Journey feature on Craft.  He goes to local schools and reads (but you never hear about it).  He talks with high school coaches.  He connects with children who are ill in the hospital.  I mean, all of that off-the-court stuff is largely what made Tebow so popular in Florida (yes, Craft even writes Bible verses on his shoes and you can see him kneel and say a prayer before each half), Craft is just less I guess "in your face" about it? Not sure if that's the right wording and I'm not trying to compare those 2 guys, but you can't find anyone who knows Craft or has played against him that has ever had a bad word to say about him, other than maybe he has a hitch in his jump shot.  The guy is planning on med school, but could have a decent career playing professionally overseas or being a coach, and I could see him as mayor of Findlay.
March stats: (per game) 14 points, 6 assists, 3.3 steals, 3 rebounds.  You think maybe he heard all the "hate" talk or is just elevating his game in time for a tourney run?

penult's picture

It may be easier to hate him because he's 1/4 Fillipino Caucasian-looking since overt sports villainy is enabled when the variable of white guilt is negated.

/looks again at Grantland's most hated NCAA players bracket 2000's region
/light bulb

73buckeye's picture

I look forward to a great article every time I see Ramzy 's name on the by line. This one is another great read about one of the best basketball players I've ever seen. Craft plays basketball the way Pete Rose played baseball. He's never  the best athlete in the game but he's always there in your face, he never quits, and he works harder than anyone else. 


CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Great article!  Wasn't it MLK who said that he had a dream that children would not be judged by the color of their skin...this story is great because it takes a sports twist on a similar idea.  That we look at good players and give them credit for how they play.  Craft's intensity and the effort he displays makes him a great player and the players around him even better.  Doesn't matter if he is black, brown, red or white.  Gotta love all of the Buckeye players for the color they are becuase they are Scarlet and Grey!  Go Bucks!!

ToothBuck's picture

Ramzy, i enjoyed your article.

Baroclinicity's picture

And to think...many were calling for Craft to not start midseason...
edit:  Maybe not many, but some...

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Gametime's picture

He can also fake a blitz and drop into space as if he were playing the Leo in Luke Fickell's defense.

The article was amazingly well written & insightful - UNTIL you fudged it up with THIS^^^ ; Craft would be playing the STAR position not the LEO, damn you Ramzy!

Between goals and achievement is discipline and consistency. That fire you have inside to do whatever you love is placed there by God. Now go claim it. ~ Denzel Washington

AAStagg's picture

It doesn't demean the accomplishments of any other player on the team to state, loud 'n clear, that Aaron Craft is a unique, once-in-a-generation student athlete.  I don't love him because he's white.  I don't even love him because he's a Buckeye Great -- who's re-writing Buckeye record books as we speak.  I love him because he's so intense you need shades to watch him.  He burns so bright, it's almost alarming.  He's carrying a near 4.0 in pre-med.  Greg Paulus is working with him on the Rhodes Scholarship, which he'll likely win -- like Bill Bradley at Princeton in days of old.  And according to the experts, he'll have a very nice NBA career, if he wants one.  If I were advising him, I'd shoot higher still -- Governor Craft, Senator Craft, POTUS Craft.
The other kids are wonderful.  God love 'em!  I'd do anything for any of them to help them succeed.
But Aaron Craft stands apart.  Nobody else is 3.9 pre-med.  Nobody else wins the Rhodes.  Nobody else is setting records that will take decades to break.  Nobody else is Aaron Craft.  It's part Mom and Dad Craft, it's part God, and it's part Aaron.  But nobody else is Aaron Craft.

PS: Urban said today how much he loved Craft and speculated maybe Safety, maybe Linebacker, or H-back... Not a bad endorsement to go with Ramzy's.

Keep calm.  It's only a game.

BuckeyeSouth's picture

For me, this article by Ramzy is a love-hate thing.  I love the writeup, which is par for the course for Ramzy, but I hate the fact that it won't be long before he leaves this humble blog for a big payday (which will be well deserved, I might add).
I love me some Aaron Craft but I equally love going to elevenwarriors.com and seeing a Ramzy article at the top of the page.  Ramzy, your writing is always my favorite and I'm going to hate not seeing your work on this site, but I wish you farewell because, at this point, it's only a matter of time before others, who have more to offer than your faithful readers, seek your talents and put your name in lights.
Thank you so much for all that you've done and where ever your talent takes you please continue to write fantastic things about our beloved Buckeyes and the players (Craft, etc) that make them great.

Champions.  Undisputed.  

Idaho Helga's picture

^^ this is pretty much my whole sentiment.  Fantastic.

cinserious's picture

Dammit Ramzy, I think you know the craft of Aaron Craft even better than Craft knows his own craft.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

southernstatesbuckeye's picture



I couldn't care any less about discrediting Couch or any of the other sports bozos, I count them as dung, but this article was well written. Ramzy, you really DO need to send it in to major media, just to stir the pot. I promise you, it will be picked up, as it's the first article of its ilk that peels the veneer back from the mystery a bit.

And creates more intrigue.

Go get your fame. Don't be shy, fella!

No, seriously.

I like cookies.

ATT2121's picture

Thank you for another great article. When AC graduates there will be other players who come along and grab our admiration, but there will not be another Aaron Craft. His combination of heart and work ethic doesn't come along very often. We are very lucky that he is a Buckeye!!


"It all goes so fast, and character makes the difference when it's close."
Jesse Owens

buckeyestu's picture

Great article indeed. Aaron is one of my favorite buckeyes of all time. Going to hate seeing him play his last game. Would have liked to seen him on the football field.

What the Fickell's picture

Every week I read your work and I say "this is the best one yet".....and then Tuesday rolls around again!

Brady Hoke wears scarlet undies.