Saying Goodbye to Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr.

By Chris Lauderback on March 8, 2014 at 8:15a
Craft and Lenzelle have played parts on teams to reach the Sweet 16, Elite 8 and Final Four over their first three seasons
28 Comments

Tomorrow, Ohio State seniors Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. will suit up one final time and give it all they've got in front of the home faithful.

Like it or not, Craft and Smith will do so with the shine of their individual playing careers dulled just a bit as the Buckeyes stumble along what has become a 9-8 record in league play with that reality, in part, due to the duo's combined inability to take on greater expectations as seniors.

Throw in the fact neither drastically improved over their time in Columbus and it's possible to slip into the mode of focusing on what these guys aren't.

But that's not what tomorrow should be about.

Tomorrow should be about what they are which is a pair of three-star recruits that gave a great deal to their university including key performances in big games and a serving as model student-athletes. 

Craft, obviously the more decorated of the two, isn't the greatest point guard in school history but he gets to be part of the conversation thanks to (don't lazily misconstrue this as a back-handed compliment because it isn't) a skill-set featuring one singular hyper-strength (defense) and rock solid intangibles (leadership, heart) coupled with a set of other skills ranging from mediocre-to-poor (shooting) to adequate (ball-handling) to above average (passing), ensuring he would be a four-year college player.

To his credit, Craft parlayed those talents into a B1G Sixth Man of the Year award, a B1G Defensive Player of the Year award, 116 wins, 666 assists and a B1G record 324 steals, a Final Four, two Elite Eights and three Sweet Sixteens playing alongside the likes of Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, Wil Buford, Jon Diebler and David Lighty. 

And he's one of four players in B1G men's hoops history to make the Academic All-American team three times.  

Craft is one of the fiercest competitors in program history.

Smith, an Illinois product in the same 2010 class with Craft, five-stars Sullinger and Thomas, a fellow three-star in J.D. Weatherspoon and four-star Jordan Siebert, was virtually a throw in recruit with minimal buzz.

Joining a loaded roster following wrist surgery, Smith was a benchwarmer his freshman season but earned a starting wing spot as a sophomore on a Final Four team. Not much was asked of Smith as he finished 5th in scoring and 4th in rebounding among the starters but he came up big a few times in the regular season and ripped off two clutch performances in the Dance.

Those outings proved a bit of a tease however as they featured Smith at his ceiling, a level he simply couldn't sustain especially if expected to do so which we saw play out as he fought bouts of inconsistency at the offensive end over his final two seasons. Defensively, he was an asset and emerged as a guy who could grab some boards at both ends from the wing.

In the end, though Craft is on a higher plane that Smith, they were both key complimentary players on very good-to-great teams but when forced to step into increasingly prominent roles, their production couldn't match the demands and amid a flurry of other factors, the team simply crested (so far anyway) at the level of a mediocre-to-good squad.

Fueling the flames, Thad Matta got bit by all the one-and-done's which was only magnified by the swings and misses to replace them, particularly the 2011 crop of four-stars LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott and Amir Williams.

Unable to land any big time scorers in that class coupled with a 2012 crop consisting of one guy (Amedeo Della Valle) and 2013 bringing a still evolving Marc Loving and a redshirt season from Kameron WIlliams, Matta was forced to ask Craft and Smith to take on unrealistic scoring burdens.

In turn, both players pressed at times offensively, trying to play outside their capabilities, all the while tricking too many of us into thinking it was realistic for guys who had played at virtually the same exact level of individual performance for three years to somehow, suddenly morph into something far greater.

As a result, Craft and Smith have taken far more criticism than they deserve and I won't pretend I haven't been right there chirping from time to time.

But when the final horn sounds ending their collegiate careers sometime in the next 30 days, there should be no question The Ohio State University and the basketball program both benefited greatly from having Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. in the fold over the last four years.

 

 

28 Comments

Comments

bkleppel's picture

Great piece Chris. I don't think we realize how much we're going to miss them. I know they've taken a lot of criticism this season, but we are definitely going to miss Craft's defense and leadership. It will be interesting to see the team next year with so many new pieces coming in after these two starters are leaving.

+1 HS
DenBuck's picture

Both are true BUCKEYES that gave it their all every moment on the court and never got in trouble off the court. Best wishes to both. 

Buckeye For Life

+6 HS
M Man's picture

I expect that Aaron Craft is going to be a continuing source of pride for the Ohio State University for the next 40 years or so.  Hats off, to one of the great Big Ten student-athletes of the decade.

+18 HS
BuckeyeFreak4844's picture

Well said, it was a real joy to watch him compete over the last 4 years.

Michigan Sucks!

+1 HS
letemlive's picture

Great piece- except Craft never played with Evan Turner.

Ohio Guy in Jersey's picture

Completely nailed it. Fans grew frustrated because these two couldn't become what we wanted them to be. Let's appreciate who they are and what they accomplished. Thank you Aaron and Lenzelle.

Quick fact check - I don't think they played with Evan Turner. That would have been a team with Turner, Lighty, Buford, Diebler, and Sullinger. I like the odds of THAT team winning it all in 2011.

+3 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

I've thought about that SO many times! That could've been one of the all-time best starting fives in OSU history.....

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

Chris Lauderback's picture

Thanks for checking me, LetEmLive and Ohio Guy. I clearly need to quit writing posts in the middle of the night.

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

Two fine Buckeyes!!! Thank you guys for all you did and do for Ohio State!!!

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

Josh P's picture

I said this on a forum post the other day, but it's going to be hard to watch these two walk off the floor as losers for the last time because for the past four years they have been anything but.  

+1 HS
nm_buck's picture

Those two were fun to watch, even in a disappointing season.  Good luck and thank you for 4 years of exemplary dedication... from all of us in Buckeye Nation.

+2 HS
gwalther's picture

So long. Farewell. Auf wiedersehen goodbye-eee. #SoundofMusic 

Class of 2008

Chise47's picture

These 2 still have one more Sweet 16 in them.

+2 HS
GrayDay's picture

Have loved watching these guys play.  Smith has had his slumps, particularly when trying to be the perimeter scoring focus, but have loved how he plays hard, especially under the bucket where others tend to lack effort or instincts.  As for Craft, I'm not sure I have ever enjoyed watching someone play the game more than him.  Yeah, he can't shoot and probably fouls more than we'd like to admit, but I've never seen someone effect and indeed take over games the unusual ways that he does.  He's like an old school fundamentals guys on steroids and it is a pleasure to watch.  I suspect that is why coaches drool over him, he's the rare living example of how emphasizing the fundamentals coaches teach can win, even if your not supremely talented.  This year has been disappointing, but it shouldn't be a knock on these two that they couldn't make up for failings around them, though they often tried.

t

+2 HS
thatlillefty's picture

Very well said, GrayDay. These two played their roles well and have provided many great memories these past 4 years. I'll definitely be sad to them go.

Here's hoping their final home game is another memorable win, with several more to follow.

hspbuy1's picture

Thanks Aaron & Lenzelle for 4 years of giving it your all,as a fan, I greatly appreciate it.

hspbuy1

+1 HS
buckeyeradar's picture

Thanks for the great many memories.  O H

Buckeye in Texas

M Man's picture

That photo of Craft and Smith wearing home-whites in front of wooden pull-out bleachers; where was it taken?  Did they play a game at St. John Arena?  Does the Schottenstein Center have pull-out bleachers somewhere?

Chris Lauderback's picture

I think Jason took it at Northwestern a few years back. 

The Rill Dill's picture

Craft will go down in NCAA as one of the three most 'pesky' players of all time.  Both of these guys will be missed.  They are not afraid to get their hands dirty, or their noses bloody.  Hats off to both.  Godspeed.

+2 HS
Tim's picture

OMG 666 ASSISTS CRAFT IS THE WHITE DEVIL!

+1 HS
O-H-I-Owe-U's picture

Congrats on fine careers. The way this season has unfolded, I wouldn't be shocked to see them add one more Sweet Sixteen to their list.

+1 HS
osubuckeye4life's picture

Thanks for memories Craft badger and Scarlet Mamba!

ScarletNGrey01's picture

Two great kids and darn good basketball players who give it their all each and every minute they are on the court.  Hope a little magic happens and they and some other teammates get hot and reel off some clutch games and finish their career on a high note.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

+1 HS
BucksFan2000's picture

Craft has been nothing but pure joy to watch the last four years.  It's too bad it ends on a team that just doesn't seem to be able to put it all together.  I hope he catches on in the NBA though.

+1 HS
Spider1944's picture

Chris,

Great article. Sometimes we wish so hard (Evan Turner playing his senior year) that it becomes true in our mind. Me thinks...

GO BUCKS!!! 

"There are 3 things that can happen and 2 of them are bad" - the Curse of Woody Hayes

shizawn9415's picture

How sweet would it be to crush the Sparties today for their last performance at the Schott!

Go Bucks and gettem boys

gobucks5413's picture

Does anyone know what time the senior day intros/presentations take place? Headed up from cinci for the game and would hate to miss this