A few fingers suddenly popped into the top-right corner of the frame of the webcam, waving frantically. They belonged to Aaron Craft.
Jared Sullinger, participating in a virtual media day with Carmen’s Crew on Monday, had just been asked about Craft gearing up for his final games as a professional basketball player before retiring after participating in The Basketball Tournament. Standing just behind the computer, as relaxed as ever before, Craft reached around to greet everybody.
It was a hello to everybody who was a few minutes away from asking him all about the quick good-bye he will give to basketball at some point in the next seven days.
“The game is going to miss Aaron Craft. Jared Sullinger is going to miss Aaron Craft. And I'm pretty sure Carmen's Crew is going to miss Aaron Craft as well,” Sullinger said on Monday. “It's going to hurt. This one's going to hurt. Honestly, I might cry if we win just knowing it's his last game. We played together for so long, so this one's going to hurt.”
Sullinger has tried to see if he’ll give it another go-round after this summer. Every day they’ve been together since checking into the cordoned-off Hyatt Regency adjacent to Nationwide Arena, he has asked whether Craft has one more year in him.
While Craft says his body feels fine, noting he could easily play one more year – if not five more – he thinks it’s time to give it up. As he detailed to Eleven Warriors in November, he has been accepted into Ohio State’s College of Medicine and plans to give up basketball in order to become a physician. He has told Sullinger again and again that he’s 100 percent at peace with the choice.
The birth of his 17-month-old son, Owen, made Craft think of a way to set him up for a bright long-term future. Going to medical school now after a six-year professional career that took him all over the world, he said, will allow him to work for at least three decades in the medical field in his home state surrounded by friends and family.
“It wasn't a light decision,” Craft said. “It's definitely not just me – my family, my wife. Honestly, it feels like a perfect storm of things kind of came together for this to be the time to step away.”
I recognize this guy.— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) July 6, 2020
He's retiring from professional basketball after Carmen's Crew's run in TBT this summer. Jared Sullinger: I might cry if we win just knowing its his last game. pic.twitter.com/7VMYLRJxko
Craft has been in Columbus ever since checking in, taking a COVID-19 test and immediately quarantining on Friday until it came back as negative for a virus.
In a strange twist of events, his final run as a professional basketball player comes in the city in which he starred in the early 2010s, but no one will be in attendance. It’s a bit of a weird dichotomy for him. But in typical Craft fashion, he’s not worried too much about the moment. Rather, he says he hasn’t even thought much about this being the wrapping up of his career.
“It's tough,” Craft said. “I think I'd get a little bit lost if I spend too much time thinking about that and then I'm not any help for the team or myself. So I'm really just trying to go into it with an open mind. The game of basketball's fun, and I think we've all missed that to this point with the pandemic going around. I don't want to spend time overthinking, overanalyzing and trying to think this has to be the perfect game. For me, it's just going out here playing with my family, my brothers and trying to do everything to win like I always do and seeing the results at the end.”
If everything goes right, Craft’s basketball career could last seven more days, ending with the TBT title game on July 14. To get there and have a chance at repeating and winning the $1 million cash prize, Carmen’s Crew would have to win three games, beginning with a matchup against House of Paign on Wednesday.
With a team that also features William Buford, Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale, David Lighty, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and first-year TBT participant Deshaun Thomas, winning it all is certainly possible. And Craft will be at the helm of it all.
“It's always great playing with Craft,” William Buford said. “That's one of my best teammates I've ever played with. You don't really realize it until when I left college and then actually played with him again in the summer, you realize how easy he makes the game for you as a point guard, as a leader. Of course I'm going to miss playing with him, just miss being around my brother.”
Revered in Columbus and reviled by many in neighboring Big Ten towns, Craft has never failed to make an impact on those he’s crossed paths with.
“He hasn't lost a beat,” Lenzelle Smith Jr. said. “He's still the same hustle, same energy, same vocal, same tenacity, same Craft, man.”
Well, the same Craft for one more week.
In the meantime, he doesn’t want to focus on the impending conclusion. Craft first has a championship to win.