Aaron Craft Begins Post-Ohio State Basketball Career

By Kyle Rowland on May 16, 2014 at 8:30a

For the first time in Aaron Craft’s life, school has been put on the backburner. With graduation ceremonies in the past and two months remaining until the NBA Draft, Mr. Academic All-American is spending his free time in the gym.

“It’s amazing when you’re done with school the amount of time you have on your hands,” Craft said at the NBA combine, which began Thursday and ends today. “Being able to spend multiple hours in a gym multiple times a day has helped hone and focus in on things that are helpful – lifting and shooting as much as possible and being comfortable with it.”

The biggest knock on Craft’s game is a shot that never quite became consistent during a memorable four-year career at Ohio State. His field-goal percentage fluctuated between 50 and 42 percent and his three-point percentage never rose above 38 percent. Craft’s career totals were 8.9 points per game on 45.9 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 percent from long range.

On Thursday, Craft made 55 of 102 (53.9 percent) shot attempts from NBA three-point range, college three-point range, 15 feet and the free throw line.

But the intangibles – and there are many – are why some believe Craft will be drafted on June 26 at Barclays Center. There are national defensive player of the year honors, Big Ten defensive player of the year awards and leadership that comes in 42-gallon barrels. 

Craft became the Big Ten’s all-time steals leader because of quick hands, proficient defensive form and a basketball IQ verging on genius level. Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan and Bill Self are just a few of the coaches who’ve praised Craft through the years. And, of course, Thad Matta.

“You look at his career, in my mind, in the 10 years I’ve been at Ohio State, he’s going down as one of the greatest players ever to put on the scarlet and gray,” Matta said. “I’d live and die with that kid any day of the year on what he’s going to do defensively. Me telling him how to play defense would be me like me telling somebody how to build a rocket ship.”

A year ago, Craft even got the attention of Cavs all-star guard Kyrie Irving. The matchup came last summer at the Nike Point Guard Academy in New Jersey. Craft, who was almost unanimously regarded as the best on-ball defender in college basketball, didn’t shy away at taking on Irving. He picked up the All-Star Game MVP full court on several occasions and forced Irving into taking low percentage shots.

When Irving was asked about Craft’s NBA prospects, he didn’t hesitate. He lavished praise on Craft and gave him a coveted endorsement. But there are still plenty of basketball wonks and general managers that have questions galore.

They know about his defensive skills and leadership. They want to see a pure shot, though. Can Craft consistently make 3s? Can he create offense off the dribble? Is he too undersized? Craft will have an opportunity to answer those queries in person and on the basketball court.

“The biggest thing I’m trying to show is there have been improvements since the last time they saw me,” he said. “I’m more than willing to put in the work, the time and the effort needed. I’m going to enjoy the process because this is the game of basketball, and it turns out you tend to play a little better that way.

“Obviously, the biggest thing everyone has on their minds is shooting the ball. That’s the main focus, not that the other things don’t need improvement, but it was being able to knock down an open shot and feeling confident and comfortable with it. The progress that we’ve made in the time that we’ve had, I feel great about it.”

Craft indicated he’s done little in the way of changing his mechanics. Everyone seeks out the perfect shot, yet no one’s found that magic elixir – there is no Fountain of Youth. So he’s concentrated more on becoming comfortable with his form and repeating it.

“Not just catching and shooting,” Craft said, “but moving and dribbling the ball and shooting the same shot over and over and over again.”

Draft analysts remain cold on Craft’s forecast. ESPN’s Chad Ford has the point guard ranked as the 55th overall draft prospect, and DraftExpress.com and NBADraft.net don’t have Craft on their board.

He’s proven throughout his career that he’s calm in the biggest moments, even thriving when pressure overwhelms others. In a two-day workout that acts as a job interview, nerves and intimidation won’t limit Craft. Give him a ball, a hoop a basketball court and nine other players, and a switch is flipped, one where determination goes into overdrive.

If it doesn’t work out, if Craft fails to impress front office personnel at the combine, doesn’t get drafted and is released from a summer league team, he’ll reevaluate. But for now, the future is basketball, not medical school.

“I love to play this game and I want to continue to do it,” Craft said. “That’s where all our focus, time and effort has been. We can continue with school later.”

Spoken like a student of the game. 


Comments Show All Comments

Unky Buck's picture

He may have had an erratic shot at times, but he also did provide us with one of the most glorious shots from a Buckeye (minus the Evan Turner shot against UM) that I recall seeing...


Rock over London; Rock on Chicago. Timex: It takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'

+7 HS
Indy_Buck87's picture

The pacers need to draft him.  George hill is not a true point guard and craft could play quality minutes for the pacers off the bench.  Plus the pacers are the best defensive team in the league and craft is perfect for what they try to do defensively.  You have to think that Bird would spend a second rounder on him with out hesitation.  

I know of only two things that are infinite, space and human stupidity.....and I'm not sure about space". Albert Einstein.

+2 HS
Barnsey69's picture

Defensive players get a slow look in the NBA...mainly because no one plays defense until the playoffs. However, leadership is the intangible here in my opinion, and my guess is someone will like that package. He might have to go the D-league route but I bet he catches on somewhere. Best of luck to Mr. Craft, he certainly has earned the his shot (pun intended).

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

+2 HS
RedStorm45's picture

I know he probably doesn't have a long NBA career ahead of him, but I'd like to see him stick somewhere as a backup just to see him defend Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, John Wall, Tony Parker, etc.  See if he frustrate the best in the world.

+2 HS
toad1204's picture

I really just want to see him get into the league, get paid, and then go cure cancer.

Nothing like dancing on the field in 02... 

+9 HS
RunningFree's picture

Teams should consider this:  drafting Craft will automatically be a benefit to your starting PG.  Practicing against Craft day after day is going to make a better offensive player because he's being challenged.

And Kyrie's high on him... Cavs should bring Craft in during the second round to be his backup.  (and try not to screw up the first round again this year, OK?  2013 had to be the worst first round of any team... ever.)

+3 HS
EvanstonBuckeye's picture

Craft will be best utilized by a team that already has an abundance of scoring options (which is not Indy), where he can be a defensive specialist that can play extended minutes in some games and specific moments in others and make a difference. Craft's body of work is extensive enough by now; I doubt teams will use the combine as that much of a measuring stick.

+2 HS
Indy_Buck87's picture

You do not need to score a 100 point to win when you only give up 80.  Pacers won more games than any team in the east this year  with that shitty offense of theirs.  They also beat all the big bad west teams, clippers, OkC, suns, Spurs.  Their offense is also not THAT bad it ranks mid of the road in the NBA.  Craft going to a team such as the pacers who do not need him to score is perfect for him. Turner rides the pine for the pacers and I recall he won national player of the year and led the NCAA in scoring so they must have something. Why is that cause he can not play defense worth a shit. 

I know of only two things that are infinite, space and human stupidity.....and I'm not sure about space". Albert Einstein.

THEOSUfan's picture

I've never met Aaron.  I talked to his sister and parents at a hoops game once.  Super, super nice family.  Everything I know about Aaron as a person, I love.  I would draft him #1 as a potential son-in-law.  :)

As an NBA player, his limitiations in terms of scoring are obvious, but everything else you want: leadership, effort, defense, work ethic, etc. is there.  It's hard for me to believe that some team will want a guy of his quality around.

+1 HS
RedStorm45's picture

Eric Snow played 14 seasons as a defense-first, pass-first point guard with a career shooting percentage of 42.4% and 20.8% from 3.  I think Craft should be able to find a roster.

+4 HS
Woodshed's picture

Afaik, snow was like 6'4" fwiw.

IGotAWoody's picture

FYI, Snow was actually listed on the roster as 6'3" (translation - he was somewhere under 6'3"). Craft is listed as 6'2". I think Eric Snow is the perfect example of what kind of player Craft could be in the NBA.

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” ~Carl Rogers

Johnny-Shane_Utah-Falco's picture

Best on ball defender of the past couple decades + freakishly quick lateral hips + underrated athletic ability + as high a basketball IQ you can find + as high character you can find + as hard working you can find = NBA roster.

+1 HS
3cent's picture

basketball IQ verging on genius level

Most overrated thing about Craft. He made plenty of boneheaded mistakes, especially this year, so I would not say that his Basketball IQ was genius level.

-2 HS
yrro's picture

I agree on this one. He was a *great* player as a role player. When he tried to step up and be "the guy" in big moments, he tended to press too hard and do something dumb.

He'd play pretty much smart and mistake-free basketball for 3/4 of the game, then do something dumb in the last minute.

That said, part of his defensive prowess is a tremendous understanding of angles and film study. On defense, his basketball IQ is as high as anyone I've seen.

Johnny-Shane_Utah-Falco's picture

Overall, his basketball IQ is higher than 90% of others, I'd guess. But...I get what y'all are saying...and I'll say that his defensive basketball IQ is higher than his BBIQ on the offensive end of the court.

Toilrt Paper's picture

The issue finally comes out. He studied too much and didn't work on his game enough.

-1 HS
PoKeY21's picture

Love Craft but in the NBA with him on the floor it will be like playing with 4 on the court on Offense. At best he gets 1 of the last 2 spots on a loaded offensive teams bench and comes in during blowouts to make sure a team doesn't get back into it. At Best!

"It was a woman who drove me to drink, come to think of it I never did hang around to thank her for that"

-1 HS
Josh P's picture

I'd love to see him go to the Spurs 

+1 HS
Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

I think he'd be perfect for the Heat.  

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