A Heartbreaking End to an Unforgettable Career for Aaron Craft

By Kyle Rowland on March 21, 2014 at 9:15a
50 Comments

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Aaron Craft grabbed a Gatorade and slunk into his locker, staring off into the distance trying to process the finality of his career. An hour earlier, he lay on the court in the First Niagara Center with a dazed look on his face.  

It was Craft who made what appeared to be the game-winning basket in a back-and-forth affair with in-state foe Dayton. But the Flyers denied him the storybook sendoff and NCAA Tournament heroism.

Vee Sanford connected on a floater over Craft with 3.8 seconds remaining. The four seconds that followed were frantic but played out in slow motion, as if Craft’s four-year odyssey flashed before his eyes. A desperation runner bounced off the rim as time expired.

When Craft fell to the floor, he gazed to the heavens with tears in his eyes oblivious to the euphoric celebration occurring behind him. The long walk to the locker room came with Craft’s jersey pulled over his face and assistant coach and close friend Greg Paulus consoling him.

“I have loved my time here, and I wouldn't trade it for anything,” Craft said.

It’s the end of an era for Ohio State. And in a way, college basketball. There aren’t many Aaron Crafts in the world – high-caliber players who embody everything it means to be a student-athlete. It’s what endeared him to Buckeye fans and made him Public Enemy No. 1 for opponents. 

Craft is the ultimate defender, the ultimate hustler, an energizer bunny in scarlet and gray. He’s undersized and not supremely athletic, but equipped with a larger-than-life persona not unlike Tim Tebow. Craft won on heart, determination and grit. He expended every ounce of verve.

Football has long been the dominant sport in Ohio. Drive through the state in autumn and chances are you’ll see boys playing football amongst the fallen leaves emulating Ohio State’s quarterback. Craft has since made taking charges, diving for loose balls and being modest cool.

“Honestly, those things are way bigger than what is going on in the locker room right now,” Craft said. “I’ve been given a phenomenal platform and stage since I have been here. The worst thing I’ve tried to avoid is taking that for granted. Whether that is diving on the floor or doing whatever I have to do, it amazes me.

“There are so many people out there that just love to watch the game and to be able to hear them talk and like the way that I play, that is bigger than me being done. Hopefully my short time here has made a difference somewhere.”

The rosy-cheeked one, a three-time Academic All-American, will be remembered for decades. Maybe not for his offense, unless it’s for facilitating during his first three seasons. Or hitting a game-winning three-pointer against Iowa State in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.

Winning has been in Craft’s DNA since a standout high school career at Findlay Liberty-Benton. The constant throughout his career was a defensive style that verged on hostile. He harassed opponents and didn’t shy away from putting his body through pain. But in humble fashion, he’ll point out the flaws.

“My first NCAA loss was on a game-winner in my face, too. It’s just frustrating,” Craft said, referencing Brandon Knight’s jumper to lift Kentucky past Ohio State in 2011.

Three years later, a similar scene played out. Only this time, it marked the end of an unforgettable career.

“This is going to hurt,” Craft said.

The grieving process began Thursday afternoon. So, what does the future hold for Aaron Craft? It remains a mystery at this point. The NBA, no matter what Craft’s cynics say, is a realistic possibility. He’s been projected as a second-round pick and scouts point to Craft’s game-changing defensive skills as reason for his place in the NBA.

Craft has indicated he wishes to pursue the NBA and if it doesn’t work out, he’ll enroll in medical school. But the future wasn’t part of his thought process following Thursday’s loss. The moment was still too foggy.

“I haven no idea. Before I can think about doing anything else, I need to deal with this and get myself in the right mindset,” Craft said. “I have to move on from this first.”

As time passes – days, months and years – a legacy that’s already fully bloomed will become crystalized.

“You look at his career, in my mind, he’s going down as one of the all‑time greatest players to ever put on the scarlet and gray,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. “Obviously, you don’t like this season to end the way it ends. But that kid has probably meant more to this program than anybody’s ever meant to this program.

“He’s special.”

50 Comments

Comments

BuckeyeinToledo's picture

Going to miss that guy...

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

-Woody Hayes

+2 HS
kwaz50's picture

This is a great article and no matter what his downfalls were on the court he is a hell of a young man.  Now the question is whether or not his jersey gets retired.

+2 HS
acBuckeye's picture

His jersey needs to be retired. Plus it'll piss off his haterz one more time.

+4 HS
BucksfanXC's picture

He is an all-time great Buckeye, will be in the record books for a long, long time, shoe in for OSU Hall of Fame. But jersey retire material? I don't know. I have special criteria for jersey retire status in my completely-not-important-to-whether-it-will-actually-happen personal opinion. I'm not sure what exactly describes the material for jersey retire status, but not sure Craft is there. It has me thinking.

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

kwaz50's picture

I'm really on the fence because it's deciding between a fan favorite and all time great player.  Is he in the same league as Lucas and Havlicek is really the question here.

PatrickJ15's picture

Hopefully he has a great career in whatever he picks. He was definitly my favorite Ohio State player to watch in the last couple years.

"If winning isn't everything, why do they keep score?"
Vince Lombardi

+1 HS
jeremytwoface's picture

Craft is a great player.

 

There were many many times this year where he seemed like the only player on the team that was into the game. Maybe that's just because he is more active, but I feel like if everyone played as hard as he does every game, this team would have been a lot better.

He might be my favorite basketball Buckeye every just because of the constant effort he put in.

The first man gets the ((((Oyster)))), the second man gets the shell.

+9 HS
doodah_man's picture

Hit or miss, he was a joy to watch play. If the other players had 1/10 of his energy, we would be going to the sweet 16. If he goes the NBA way, I am sure he will give his all to whoever drafts him.

Jim "DooDah" Day
It is hard to play dirty against a man who picks you up.

+5 HS
Hovenaut's picture

Knew it was coming, but hated the abrupt end.

I'll miss him on the court as well, but sure think he continue to make people proud in going on to other accomplishments.

I am not very smart, but I recognize that I am not very smart.

+3 HS
AJBor41's picture

I have a slight issue with the "He’s not supremely athletic" comment.  To what, exactly, does this refer?  He appears to have good speed, excellent balance, great agility, and he bench pressed more than the senior, NBA-ready Power Forwards on the day he came in as a freshman. 

+7 HS
yrro's picture

Agreed. Dude has incredible lateral quickness. He doesn't have huge ups, but so many of his steals are because everyone underestimates how fast he is.

He's not as athletic as Scott, but Scott has faster feet than pretty much anyone on the court most days.

+5 HS
FROMTHE18's picture

think he meant more off the court than on it for our Program, and thats saying a lot considering what the did on the court. Legend. 

+1 HS
blu.fan's picture

As a Michigan fan, I will say straight up that Craft was an awesome basketball player. His defense was amazing, but then, that's obvious. I actually don't think he gets enough credit for his offense. The problem wasn't so much Craft. The problem was the rest of the team around him. OSU just has not had any real offense to speak of.

Some Buckeyes have lamented that Burke and LeVert didn't end up in Columbus. I'm not quite sure why Matta didn't recruit them. I guess there wasn't room for Burke. Part of Coach Beilein's genius is identifying under the radar talent. Having said that, I want to go in a different direction:  Craft is one player that I wish had been at Michigan. With his defense and his discipline, he would have been a natural under Beilein. He wouldn't have been "the guy" as much as he was at Ohio, but with Craft as part of the Michigan team, the Wolverines would be much harder to beat. His defense would have helped Michigan tremendously, but with Stauskas, Robinson, LeVert, last year McGary, there wouldn't have been the pressure Craft had to carry the team offensively, and he would have flourished. Think of how Craft did with Jared Sullinger and DeShaun Thomas. Having strong offensive options and a post presence allowed Craft's gifts to shine. He just didn't have that this year.

Good luck with your incoming class. Matta will have the Buckeyes at the top again very soon. You will miss Craft, but time moves on.

+12 HS
iball's picture

If we went back in time ..EVERYONE on this site would have recruited not only Craft but Shannon scott as well over Trey Burke. EVERYONE.

Belein isn't as "genius" as you claim. He needed a point guard and picked up a solid player named Trey Burke who happened to be better than people expected. Thats reality. 

Also, _ichigan sucks. Good day sir.

“There’s one thing I have learned through all my adventures and conquests - it’s that some people are just wired for success. I had no choice when it came to being great - I just am great.” – Kenny Powers

-3 HS
sivaDavis's picture

A UM fan has a great post for once and you want to nitpick and be arrogant, come on brother. Secondly, if everyone knew how things panned out with Trey, there's not a doubt in my mind they would recruit him. I might go as far as saying there might have been 3 point guards recruited that year because I don't know how you pass on any one of them. Belien is a hell of a coach. In my opinion he is TTUN's Thad because when he arrived, he turned the team around and I don't see them being down like how they usually are for a long time which is great for the B1G. Him, Thad and Izzo are great coaches that will continue to make the B1G one of the best, if not the best conference in basketball. Trey was better than people expected but that's good. He played with a little chip on his shoulder and I appreciate those players. Lastly, UM does suck but we already knew that.

"I've had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven't run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can't outwork you, then smarts aren't going to do them much good." - Woody Hayes

BuckeyeNut71's picture

Blu.Fan - Excellent post.  Logical and well written.  Thank you for taking the time and effort to post positive comments here, with no insults.   You are a MI fan with class.   I, for one, appreciate a civil discussion between fans of opposing teams.  We have a great basketball conference and I always cheer the teams in our conference - except when we play each other, of course..............  :-) .   Do the same for all Big Ten football teams too.    Not all OSU fans feel it necessary to talk trash.   Please don't judge us all by the ones that do.  I'm sure I'll be a target for expressing this view, but I don't care.  I wish more fans would be civil to each other and the opposing teams.  It is a GAME after all.   I am an avid OSU fan, but I believe it's possible to be great fans without lowering ourselves to hurling insults.   Best Wishes to you, Blu.Fan.  I hope you'll feel welcome to post again.

BuckeyeNut71

ColoradoBuck's picture

Not afraid to admit that I shed a tear reading this. Good luck in the future Mr. Craft!

+6 HS
Bucknut-in-the-South's picture

Two quotes from Little Big Man sum up my feelings. First, when I think about Aaron Craft, the player, the student, the human being, "My heart soars like an eagle!" When I think about the fact that his career is over, and in such ignominious fashion, all I can say is, "Today is a good day to die." Thank you, Aaron, for four years of inspired and inspiring presence, both on and off the court. Your legacy will always be a part of the lore of Ohio State basketball, and your name will forever be sung in the hall of heroes. Godspeed and good fortune to you, young man.
 

+4 HS
TheBigCat's picture

It was easy to be tough on Craft this year, but after yesterday's loss, and some time to reflect on it, I look at his season in a different light.

I put a lot of this season, and it's downfall, on Coach Matta.  We missed on some key players the last few recruiting cycles, and were in a situation this year where we were simply asking #4 to do things he just wasn't intended to do as a basketball player, it's as simple as that.  And, I'm not ripping Thad, he's done an unbelievable job with this program, we just had a down year this year compared to what our expectations have become under him.

If you want proof, just look at his annual stats over his four year career.  He has been pretty consistent, if not slightly improved over his career here.  Craft this year is the same player everyone raved about the prior three years, we just didn't expect him to be someone he wasn't as a basketball player before then.  Think about what this team would have looked like if Tank had stayed.  Would the people ripping Craft now be saying those same things?  Is that Crafts fault, did he suddenly deteriorate as a player this year?  No, we just didn't have the right pieces to complement his game this year.

He was the epitome of a student athlete, a great kid on and off the court, and was a fantastic representative of this University.  Not to mention a fantastic basketball player who led this University to some great results in the tourney, including hitting a game winner last year.  I don't understand how anyone could possibly be happy to see #4 leave this year.  I for one and sure going to miss seeing him represent the Scarlet and Grey on the hardwood.

+3 HS
blu.fan's picture

I completely agree with you. Craft was awesome, but I just think that athletically and offensively, it was too much to expect him to be "the guy." Craft couldn't carry the team. He really needed Tank, or Sullinger, to generate offense. Frankly, if I was disappointed, it would be in some of the other guys on the team. I think it will be critical for Matta to recruit well going forward, although iirc, you have a great incoming class.

+2 HS
topgun67's picture

proud to have had Craft at OSU... PERIOD!

now, let's get back to winning ways next year on both BB and FB...

2001 now seems so long ago... 13 years...i have aged.. we have all aged... 1 or 2 more championships before i hit the dirt in this thing called life.. 

+3 HS
TossTrap's picture

Great article Kyle.

Dr. Craft will enrich the medical profession.

First and goal at the five and Arch is getting the ball.

+2 HS
WC Buckeye's picture

Dr. Craft has a nice ring to it. I am sure he'll be contributing to the betterment of mankind well beyond basketball to the point that it will seem trivial. Best of luck, kid.

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

+3 HS
GrayDay's picture

Absolutely, there always comes the time to move on and make your mark in more important ways.  And he surely will.  Critics dislike him for how popular he has become despite not being as gifted or personally dominant as, say, a Michael Jordan.  He's unusually popular because he's an unusually tough player and extremely admirable young man.  The latter trait is very much a part of the former.  He plays the game with ultimate respect and does honor to his family and school.  I wish they'd go back to letting college players make up the Olympic team, how cool would it be to see him wearing the USA and serving up 20 assists a game to teammates who can really score.  He's no Michael Jordan.  Then again, MJ is no Aaron Craft.

+6 HS
BuckeyeCrew's picture

Awesome. Indeed, MJ is not even close to Aaron Craft, in many areas.  (As a decent human being, I know which one I rate higher)

+4 HS
BuckeyeChief's picture

Damn, this made me sad...going to add AC#4 to my favorite players list now.

 

"Damn I miss El Guapo"

+1 HS
OldColumbusTown's picture

It's hard to accept this is the end for Craft in an Ohio State uniform.  I feel like I, as I'm sure many others do as well, have grown as attached to him as a player/representative of OSU moreso than probably anyone else ever.  He's an ordinary kid who has done extraordinary things in his time in Columbus.

I'd probably never consider this under any other circumstances, but if Craft makes an NBA roster, I just may have to get the NBA Direct Pass package next year.  It'll be hard to watch the Buckeyes next year without seeing #4 on the floor...

+2 HS
JJB's picture

You think we could start a petition to have a parade for Aaron Craft?

+2 HS
Buckeye in the ATL's picture

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Craft,

I would like to congratulate you both for raising such a fine son.  I do not know your family but do know the family you are.  The son emerging into a man demonstrated on and off the court the obvious guidance from Mom and Dad.  There must be a lot of love in your home that transcended into Aaron's everyday life once you packed him up for Columbus.

You may be going through some hurt right now but running beneath the mixed feelings you know the last four years were the harbinger for a successful run into adulthood and whatever career he pursues.  Thanks for all the great memories you've given me these last four years and may God continue blessing your family.

Buckeye in the ATL

+7 HS
vitaminB's picture

The greatest defender in the history of the B1G.

I'm gonna miss that little rubix cubin pi memorizing scrapper.

 

 

+6 HS
BucksFan2000's picture

People complain about one-and-done's and the courses athletes take - Craft stayed all four years, and was consistently an academic all-american with a difficult course load.

People complain about players acting entitled - Craft worked his butt off every second he was on the court.

People complain players don't play defense anymore - I don't think I have to say anything on this one.

I guess it's human nature to want to tear down people that have been built-up, but he's everything people claim to want to see in a student-athlete.  I've heard all the nice things said about Craft over the years, and I can't think of anything that wasn't deserved.  Haters gonna hate, but I'm thankful as hell he was, and always will be, a Buckeye.

+6 HS
3cent's picture

most overrated player ever

-10 HS
German Buckeye's picture

Most ridiculous comment ever

+6 HS
nburns18's picture

Gonna miss Mr. Craft. But he sure does have a bright future ahead of him

"You win with people." -Woody Hayes

+1 HS
alust2013's picture

Great article. I think Craft has been due the praise he has gotten. It's no secret that he doesn't have the best jump shot, but what else does he do that isn't very good? He plays much like Rajon Rondo does, taking what's given to him, but mostly dishing out assists, getting steals and generally annoying the opposition with his defense. I think he at least deserves a solid look in the NBA, perhaps on a team like the Thunder, where he would have Westbrook, who I think is more of a SG than a PG, and Durant to feed for the scoring, while adding 8-10 points a game. I'd love to watch that.

...and Michigan still sucks.

+2 HS
RedStorm45's picture

“My first NCAA loss was on a game-winner in my face, too. It’s just frustrating,” Craft said, referencing Brandon Knight’s jumper to lift Kentucky past Ohio State in 2012.

2011.

+1 HS
BuckeyeCrew's picture

He’s undersized and not supremely athletic

 Kyle, love the article, and I appreciate your words concerning one of my favorite all-time Buckeyes.  But, I am just flabbergasted by the above comment (and don't think you are the only one who says as much).  AC is 6'2", around 200, and has world class athleticism.  In my opinion, he's a better athlete than Slam, even if he can't jump out of the gym.  His strength, power, lateral quickness and first-step are amazing.  (Why do you think he's one of the best defenders ever to lace-up for tOSU?) Add in his "intangibles", which play into his athleticism, and you have someone who can play on any college team, in any area, and contribute as a star.  Granted, he is a defensive star (whose offense is way too maligned, IMO), but an elite, none-the-less.

I believe his athleticism translates well across sports, as well, FWIW.

+1 HS
theobi's picture

Earlier this year I took a tour at Ohio State. The girl who was giving the tour told a story of how one of her first days on campus freshman year she decided to get a calc tutor. They set her up with tutor and she ended up getting an A- in the class, and she and the tour guide still joke about how he got a better grade than her. Then she told us her tutor was Aaron Craft. She said he's a great guy and became her first friend at Ohio State. Just an all around awesome person. Sad to see him go.

+3 HS
ScarletNGrey01's picture

A special kid, a true student athlete who strives for excellence in everything he does. He will steal your lunch money without you knowing about it, quickest hands ever and a competitor through-and-through.

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

+1 HS
vball10set's picture

Mr. Buckeye...'nuff said.

+2 HS
osubuckeye4life's picture

One for the ages, a buckeye legend. 

+2 HS
JakeStevensIsSwag's picture

It kind of feels like losing a loved one, just not as bad. Ill miss him greatly. Best of luck to him with whatever he decides to do.  If he does make a NBA team, ill be a fan.

Buckeye fan from PA

sivaDavis's picture

All I know is I feel bad for the next white guy that comes through Ohio State and wears #4. If he doesn't have red rosey cheeks when he hits the floor, plays great defense and can solve a rubix cube in his sleep, I'm gonna be so mad at him and he will have no idea why!!

"I've had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven't run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can't outwork you, then smarts aren't going to do them much good." - Woody Hayes

3cent's picture

This Aaron Craft worship is so nauseating; reminds me of Tebow and the Gator fans. But at least Tebow was actually good in college.

-5 HS
3cent's picture

Not a troll, a Buckeye Fan like the rest of you. I just do not see what everyone else sees in Craft. He might be a nice guy and a superior student who has heart and hustle, but you guys act like he was some super star. Just seems like another Steve Wojciechowski to me. There are two Craft myths:

1. He is a leader - You guys love to call him a leader, but in the next sentence will criticize the rest of the team. So if the rest of the team has no passion or heart where is the leader?

2. He is a smart player - I guess if you don't count all the ill advised shots, turnovers, bad fouls, etc...

-2 HS
Oakland Buckeye's picture

You called him nauseating & the most overrated player ever.... sounds like a Buckeye fan like the rest of us...

-1 HS
3cent's picture

I did not call him nauseating, I called the way you all gush all over him nauseating, I am a Buckeye Fan. Believe or not, not all of us worship Craft. Funny, the other day I was talking to 2 other fans in person and we all agreed that he sucked, was glad that he is gone, that the team will be so much better next year without him, and did not understand why everyone loves him so much. And you guys can criticize other players and no one questions your fandom, but God forbid your darling gets criticized and I must be a #ichigan troll.

-1 HS
sivaDavis's picture

Were those two other "fans" you were talking to 1Cent and 2Cent?

"I've had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven't run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can't outwork you, then smarts aren't going to do them much good." - Woody Hayes

WC Buckeye's picture

It was no cents and non cents

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

-1 HS