Commentary

Aaron Craft's last dance

Ohio State point guard's gritty basketball career is worth saluting

Originally Published: March 18, 2014
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Aaron CraftAP Photo/Michael ConroyDespite his size, Aaron Craft is not afraid to go where the action of the game takes him.

There is nobody in college hoops like Ohio State's Aaron Craft, who parachuted here straight out of 1948.

He doesn't drink. He doesn't have sex. And he doesn't have much of a jumper.

He's about as square as a pinochle table. He doesn't do Twitter. He doesn't watch Spike.

He's the kind of player John Wooden would've liked. Come to think of it, he's a little like the player John Wooden was at Purdue. He spreads his game over all the stat page. Nine points a game, four steals, five assists, three floor burns, two charges and one win. That kind of thing.

He doesn't do double digits, doesn't worry about the NBA and doesn't even look much like a modern college athlete. He looks more like the kid who rounds up grocery carts and mows the old couple's lawn for free every Sunday.

He's as old-fashioned as an ice box. He got engaged to his high school sweetheart (Amber Petersen), went to the in-state school he loved as a kid (Ohio State) and stayed all four years (with a 3.9 GPA.).

Naturally, modern America is going to hate a kid like that.

"The verbal assaults really got tense this year," says Craft, the point guard for the 25-9 Buckeyes, who lost in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament last week and enter March Madness as a 6-seed. "They're at my fiancé, at my sister. They even said my mom is a bad cook. Now hold on. That's not even true. My mom is a great cook. Her lasagna is fantastic."

And if they're not on them, they're on him. Last year, Wisconsin fans chanted about the red splotches he gets on his face as he's diving around, leaving patches of freckled skin all over the court. "My brother gets them, too. I guess they were making sure I knew that they really are red," he said.

Me, I hate to see him go.

He's a floor-slapping, quick-fingered, defensive hellion; a you-get-yours-first-I-don't-even-care-about-mine leader; a shameless, smothering thief who now owns the Big Ten career record for steals.

Yes, Craft's offense can be as spotty as his face. He lost control of the ball with a chance to beat Michigan in their Big Ten semifinal game. But his defense is a wonder. He's on you like your sixth grade sweater. He doesn't give you room to dribble. He seems to always be underfoot. He's a pest, and not just to opponents. If any teammate is hurt, he'll come up from behind and rub them on that hurt. "Hey," he says, "people pay money to massage therapists for that. I'm just trying to help out."

[+] EnlargeAaron Craft
Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesCraft's energetic style of play makes him hard to miss on the court.

No wonder that sometimes when he's getting off the team bus, Craft gives his player bag to one of the managers and takes one of their bags. He's about their size anyway. Let them stop and sign the autographs, hear the catcalls, stop for the photos.

Craft is like nobody you've ever met. He's a kid who can do a Rubik's Cube in one minute, who slops ketchup on anything and everything, and whose religious devotion makes him a man out of his time. He says he's a virgin, which on an American college campus in 2014 is like saying you've never texted.

"Sometimes it's difficult," he says. "The things you hear in a locker room today, they're kind of, uh, distracting, but I know it's the right choice for me."

Craft believes "bad things in, bad things out," so he doesn't watch reality TV, suggestive movies or click on a whole lot of websites he's never seen. Instead, he watches "Brain Games," "Modern Family" and Discovery Channel. Suffice it to say, he doesn't do much of a keg stand.

All that will get worse in the NBA, if Craft goes at all. Small Craft Warning: There's not a huge market for defense-only, pass-only, 74-inch-maybe point guards in the Association.

"If I stay injury free, I could play somewhere," he says. "A lot of it is timing. And there's got to be some luck involved."

That's not what experts are saying. Most have him going in the second round. DraftExpress.com has him going 51st. Being taken 51st in the NBA draft is usually a free pass to working at your uncle's flower store.

And if the NBA falls through? Craft will go straight to medical school. He wants to be a doctor so badly that he recently followed Ohio State's team doctor, Grant Jones, into a live operating room.

And right out again.

"I had to leave for a couple minutes," Craft says. "He was doing an ACL on a guy and there was this big gap in the guy's knee. They had to stick a tool in the guy's leg to cut out a piece of his hamstring to replace the ACL with. It was like a bloody spaghetti noodle, only bigger. I just walked out for a second, took my mask off, got a little water, put my mask back on and went right back in."

If Craft's accuracy from the 3-point line doesn't get better (31 percent this season), he'll only be giving shots next year, not taking them. What's going on?

"I don't really know," Craft says. "Not having Deshaun [Thomas, the former Ohio State forward who is playing overseas now] puts a little more pressure on all of us. At times maybe we've really pressed. Maybe I've overpenetrated at times. Maybe I've tried to do things I'm not capable of. But lately, I'm back to enjoying it, and not trying to do more than I can."

This week or next could be the last we see of the remarkable relic known as Aaron Craft, so here's to him and the guts he always shows.

Just don't show them to him.

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com

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