As Carmen’s Crew’s time in The Basketball Tournament ended with a third-round loss to The Money Team at the Covelli Center on Tuesday night, so too did the competitive basketball careers of Aaron Craft and Jon Diebler.
Craft, who retired from playing professional basketball overseas in 2020, left the door open to a TBT return after Carmen’s Crew’s first-round loss last year, and ultimately did return for this year’s event. Following Tuesday night’s loss, however, Craft was more certain that this year’s TBT would be his last, as he prepares to start his second year of medical school at Ohio State.
“Even if I think mentally and physically I could play again, I don’t think I’ll have the time next year,” Craft said. “So it was a great run.”
Diebler, who played for Hapoel Tel Aviv in Israel last year, also does not plan to suit up for Carmen’s Crew next year, as he announced his retirement from professional basketball after the game.
“This is it for me. I am done playing basketball,” Diebler said. “I’ve been telling the guys that for the last like three months. No one believed me, so I guess it’s official now.”
Craft, who was convinced to rejoin Carmen’s Crew by Diebler and others this year, expressed skepticism that Diebler would actually stop playing basketball, quipping “We’ll see.” Diebler, though, feels confident in his decision that it’s time to move on.
“I think I’m at a point in my life, my career, that I know when it’s time to be done,” Diebler said. “I’ve had a fortunate career. I was able to play nine years, stay healthy for the most part.”
Both of them had been hoping to keep their basketball careers going for one more weekend, and for most of Tuesday night’s game, it looked like they’d get that chance. Carmen’s Crew led by double digits for most of Tuesday’s contest and was up by 18 with less than two minutes to play in the third quarter, but squandered that lead away in the fourth quarter to suffer a 91-89 loss.
But while Diebler, Craft and the rest of the Ohio State alumni had been hoping to win their second TBT title in three years and the $1 million prize that comes with that, they ended Tuesday night feeling more gratitude than disappointment. For Craft and Diebler, who received some of the night’s loudest ovations from the Covelli Center crowd when they entered the game off the bench, playing for Carmen’s Crew was all about having the opportunity to reunite with some of their former Ohio State teammates and have fun playing basketball together again.
“This was great,” Craft said. “I don’t feel sad or angry. I feel happy. They were gracious enough to let me play again. Definitely didn’t have to. But they let me come back, hang out. So I’m just grateful. I had a great couple weeks. It was fun practicing, playing games again. And a couple times out there, it felt like old times. So it gave me a nice little boost heading into school again.”
Diebler said his biggest disappointment was letting down the Buckeye fans who showed up at the Covelli Center to support Carmen’s Crew.
“I think that’s what hurts the most, man. The crowd really brought it tonight,” Diebler said. “Obviously, everybody wants to win. We would have liked to win some money. But for us, it’s about just having that chance to put the same uniform on again, especially to represent our university, our basketball program. And TBT has been great, working with our university and having the games here. As you can see, we have some amazing fans. For them to come out, especially for a 9:00 game, to come out and support us like that, it’s awesome.”
THANK YOU BUCKEYES!!!!— TBT (@thetournament) July 28, 2021
You guys are truly some of the best fans in the world pic.twitter.com/81L841ciNZ
Although they won’t be on the court in next year’s TBT, Craft and Diebler hope to remain involved with Carmen’s Crew in a non-playing capacity. With or without them, they want to see Carmen’s Crew – which has played in every TBT since 2017 – continue to play in the tournament for years to come, with more recent Ohio State alumni replacing the older Buckeyes as they conclude their basketball careers.
“This wasn’t just a five-year thing to where then when we’re all old and retired that there’s no more Carmen’s Crew in the TBT,” Diebler said. “We want to keep it going, keep getting some younger guys. We brought some guys in this year that helped a lot.”
Regardless of whether they have any role with Carmen’s Crew next year, though, it’s not as if they’re saying goodbye to their former Ohio State teammates, as they still expect to spend plenty of time together.
“It’s beyond basketball. Beyond winning games. Man, we’re just a big family,” Diebler said. “We hang out together all the time. A lot of us have kids now, our kids hang out together. It’s cool.”