When the word “grit” is mentioned, what do most people think of? Do they have thoughts of Saints fullback John Kuhn, leading the way for an electrifying Saints running game? Do they think of Matthew Delladova, the tough and much-hated defender for the Milwaukee Bucks who became a star in the NBA Finals two years ago? Do they laugh at the joke that Barstool Sports’ PFT Commenter has now trademarked? Or do people think of the overweight white dude in rec basketball who can only get rebounds and set picks? (that is actually just a description of myself).
But when college basketball fans think of the words “gritty” and “tough”, there has been no player in college basketball who embodies those words more than former Ohio State guard Aaron Craft. The former Ohio State star guard had a tremendous collegiate career, one that saw him become the best defensive player in the entire country. A tall 6’2 guard with a huge wingspan, Craft locked down more defenders than the Florida Gators have former players locked up in prison. So after a career that saw Craft seemingly featured on ESPN every other night, he’s seemingly fallen off the map. Where is the former Buckeye star now?
Craft is from Findley, Ohio, and during high school, he was an impressive athlete. He was a star on both the basketball and football team, leading each squad to state championship games. Eventually, however, Craft gave up football for his senior year to focus squarely on basketball, and it paid off. He was Ohio Player of the Year during his senior season and won an AAU national championship with future Buckeye teammate Jared Sullinger. After his remarkable senior year, Craft became a mega-star and signed to play basketball at Ohio State. It was here he ushered in a new era in OSU basketball.
Most Ohio State fans maybe can’t point to a specific play that made them fall in love with Aaron Craft. It was more his overall style of play and general “grit” that made Craft a fan favorite in Columbus and the bane of a fanbases existence everywhere else in the midwest. His stats during his freshman season were not eye-popping; Craft started just one game and averaged only 6.8 points-a-game. But his hustle, his defense, his fearlessness in driving to the hoop and his phenomenal passing made the former Liberty High School star a fan favorite. Craft was named to the All-Freshman Big 10 team and All-Defensive after that first year and was named the Big 10 Sixth Man of the Year.
Sophomore year was an even bigger one for Craft, who participated as a starter on the Buckeyes Final Four squad. Being upgraded to a starting role, he averaged over 32 minutes a game, along with 8.8 points and 4.8 rebounds every contest. While Craft’s offensive stats were not the flashiest, his defense was what made him one of the most effective players in the country. He was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year for the first time, while once again making the conference’s all-defensive team. Despite an exit from the Final Four after losing to Kansas, the Buckeyes were poised for a big 2012 with an improved Craft at the helm.
Despite the loss of star forward Jared Sullinger to the NBA, Ohio State still had high expectations for the 2012-2013 season. Junior forward Deshaun Thomas took over where Sullinger left off, averaging almost twenty points-a-game, and combined with an improved Craft, the Buckeyes quickly became Big 10 favorites. They rolled through most of the regular season, which saw Craft improve to over 10 PPG, and then went on to win the Big 10 Tournament. After qualifying as a two seed for the NCAA Tournament, the Buckeyes breezed past Iona before running into Iowa State in the second round. It was there where Craft cemented his place among Ohio State legends, with this shot against the Cyclones:
Although they would eventually lose in the Elite 8, Aaron Craft had the year of a lifetime. He was named second-team All-Big 10, an Academic All American, Big 10 Tournament MVP, AND was put on the All-Defensive team for the third time in three seasons. His final year with the Buckeyes was less memorable, due to the several key players from the previous team leaving. He led OSU to a 25-10 record and NCAA Tournament berth, before losing in a massive upset to 11-seed Dayton. Despite a down year for the program, Craft has another phenomenal season, making the All-Defensive team for the fourth consecutive season, and was named the country’s defensive player of the year by National Association of Basketball Coaches. He finished his career in Columbus as the program’s all-time leader in steals, minutes played, and games played. His lock-down defense, while not pretty, was as integral to the success of Thad Matta and the Buckeyes as any other factor in their four-year run of phenomenal play.
In the Pros…..Kind Of
Despite all the accolades in college, no NBA team wanted to take a chance of one of the most decorated players in college basketball history, and Craft went undrafted. He signed with the Philadelphia 76ers (shout out to PJ and Franklin), and spent a few years in the NBA D-League. While there, he won a championship with the Santa Cruz Warriors, and in 2015, he was named the D-League Defensive Player of the Year, to literally no-one’s surprise. A few months later, Craft signed with a team in Hungary for a few months, before going back to the Warriors (not the Golden State ones) in early 2016, and making the 2016 All-Defensive team for the second year in a row.
Where is he now?
After his second stint in Santa Cruz, Craft signed with Aquila Basket Trento, a professional basketball club in Italy. After a year there, he then signed with AS Monaco, another Italian team, in the summer of 2017. He has been a starter during this current season for Monaco and has been averaging 6.8 PPG along with 3.4 assists-per-game. To no one’s surprise, his defense has carried over to Europe, where he was named to the league’s all-defensive team and has led Monaco to a 25-9 overall record.
Players like Craft are a dying breed in basketball. Guys who put the team first and don’t seem to care about individual stats while taking pride in stout defense are rare players to find in college and in the NBA. But not too long ago, one of the most prominent players in the NCAA didn’t shoot thirty times a game, and wasn’t trying his best to imitate Steph Curry by jacking up long threes and growing a teenage goatee. Possibly the most-well know player in basketball was a lock-down defender who was just as happy to guard someone as he was to score. That player was Aaron Craft, and his phenomenal play for the Buckeyes should not be forgotten.