Although he retired from professional basketball last year, former Ohio State guard Aaron Craft is back with Carmen’s Crew to play in The Basketball Tournament one more time.
Except for playing in a Tuesday night recreational league, Craft hasn’t played a lot of basketball since last year’s TBT. Most of Craft’s time over the past year has been occupied by his first year of medical school at Ohio State.
With the summer off from classes, though, Craft decided he should rejoin Carmen’s Crew – where he’s playing alongside former Ohio State teammates David Lighty, Jon Diebler, William Buford, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Evan Ravenel and Shannon Scott, among others – as it prepares to host TBT’s Columbus regional at Ohio State’s Covelli Center this weekend.
“This is a ton of fun,” Craft said Monday. “Obviously you miss it when you walk away, and it seemed like a perfect time to play again. It’s here in Columbus, there’s no bubble or anything like that and I had the summer off. So we’ll see if I can be useful in any way, and hopefully I can.”
Asked whether it was hard for him to get back in shape after not playing professional basketball this year, Craft said that question shouldn’t be asked in the past tense.
“I’m definitely not in shape the way I would love to be, but I think I’m working on getting there,” Craft said. “I fooled myself thinking (the Tuesday night rec league) was getting me in shape the last couple of months, and it is not. But we’ll see how it goes.”
Diebler, however, said he thinks Craft is being harder on himself than he should be.
“I think he’s in better shape than what he’ll probably give him credit for,” Diebler said. “It’s probably not the shape that he’s used to being in, but none of us really are. That’s why we’re out here practicing. But he looks good. You can’t really tell that he’s taken a year off.”
While Craft has been a starter for Carmen’s Crew in the past, he expects to come off the bench this year. Carmen’s Crew’s backcourt for this year’s TBT also includes Scott, Smith and Keyshawn Woods, all of whom are still playing professional basketball internationally. But while Craft is downplaying his own value to Carmen’s Crew, his teammates expect Craft to be the same player he’s always been come Friday, when Carmen’s Crew will play its first-round game against Mid-American Unity (9 p.m., ESPN).
“Aaron’s going to be fine,” Scott said. “We played with him today, he’s definitely in shape. He has a kid now, he runs around more probably now than he did back then. So I think he’s gonna be fine. He’ll be in shape, he’ll be good.”
Craft is fairly certain that this year’s TBT will be his last. He won’t have next summer off between his second and third year of medical school, so his Tuesday night rec league – which he plays in with fellow former Ohio State basketball player Matt Terwilliger – will likely be the most competitive basketball he plays once Carmen’s Crew’s 2021 TBT run is over.
“I would be surprised if I played again after this,” Craft said. “Tuesday night, I’ll be there, but that’s a little lower-key.”
Of course, the other members of Carmen’s Crew could still try to convince him to play again after successfully doing so this year.
“We were in his ear throughout the year, so it’s good to have him back,” Diebler said. “Whenever he wants to play, he always has a spot.”
Carmen’s Crew, which won TBT in 2019, will be looking for redemption this year after losing to House of ‘Paign in the first round last year. Craft said last year’s loss wasn’t the reason why he came back for one more TBT run this year, though.
“Honestly, I didn’t think a ton about last year,” Craft said. “For me, it’s another chance to play competitive basketball. Probably my last to play highly competitive basketball. My body’s still pretty good for the most part, felt like a good time.”
One thing Craft is excited for this year that he didn't get last year, however, is the opportunity to play in front of Ohio State fans one more time, as last year’s TBT at Nationwide Arena was closed to the public.
“I think it’s gonna be awesome,” Craft said. “You see the games out in Wichita and you see the fans that are coming out to watch them play, and I’m just kind of hoping for the same thing, because there’s nothing like it, and you don’t get to do it anywhere else.”
Check out the videos below for more from Carmen's Crew's media availability at Ohio State on Monday, where we also caught up with Jared Sullinger – the head coach of Carmen's Crew – as well as Diebler and Scott.