Ex-Buckeye Craft finding way in pro hoops

Aaron Craft was named D-League Defensive Player of the Year in 2015.

Aaron Craft has experienced nearly all aspects of basketball.

He stood out as a point guard at Ohio State (2011-14). He was named NBA D-League Defensive Player of the Year with the Santa Cruz Warriors. He even served a quick stint with a team in Hungary.

Now, Craft has taken his game to Italy — with a club called Aquila Basket Trento, to be exact.

Why Italy?

Well, for one, Italy asked.

“I talked to the assistant GM and coach, and really felt like it would be a good situation for me to continue to improve, as well as be a part of a great team,” Craft said in an interview with Amico Hoops.

A couple other teams showed interest, too.

“But in the end, we felt like this was my best opportunity and career choice,” Craft said. “Not to mention (former Ohio State guard) David Lighty also signed to play here, so that was a solid bonus.”

Craft, 25, is listed at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds. He has always been known for his suffocating defense, setting the Buckeyes’ record for steals during his junior year.

Pro scouts will tell you he also knows how to run a team. He keeps his head up, his turnovers down and the ball moving. He averaged 13.5 points and 7.3 assists in the D-League last season.

Still, despite runs with the 76ers, Warriors and Jazz in summer league, Craft has yet to make it to the NBA.

General managers and scouts haven’t really told him why.

“I wish those people provided more feedback,” Craft said of NBA types. “Most teams like to keep their cards close to their chest. So you just go out, try and do your best, and wait to see how the dust settles.”

On the other hand, Craft’s new Italian team isn’t shy.

“He’s an aggressive point guard who will make us great in transition,” said Maurizio Buscaglia, Craft’s coach with Aquila Basket Trento.

“He knows how to attack the iron, has a great dribble-drive and knows how to play upright while taking contract. He’s perfect for us.”

FAITH COMES FIRST

Craft is enjoying Italy just fine, too. His new team has helped in that area, providing an apartment and a car.

“They’ve made the transition for my wife and me easier,” Craft said. “They’ve pointed us in the right direction when it comes to grocery stores and things of that nature. The rest we slowly explore and figure out ourselves, which is part of the fun and adventure.”

Craft directed the Ohio State offense for four years, his final three as a starter.

He’s also finding his way on the court. He admitted the international rules (and officiating) are two of the bigger adjustments.

“Most of us haven’t played together, so we’re continuing to get a feel for each other,” Craft said. “We start preseason games soon.  That should be a good time to improve for all of us.”

Craft still has NBA dreams, calling it his “No. 1 goal.” But while basketball is a priority, it clearly doesn’t top his list.

Instead, he cites his Christian faith as the driving force. He sometimes even sports Bible verses on his sneakers for games.

“My faith in God through Jesus Christ plays a massive role in both life and basketball,” he said. “In the basketball world, and the world in general, so many things are performance-based and driven by instant gratification.

“But following and trusting in God is neither of those things. Jesus is a constant I know I can come back to and count on regardless of how I perform. He has given me peace. He helps me live a life of purpose and significance.

“Living for God and according to His Word has given me a joy greater than any basketball victory could.”

BUCKEYE PRIDE

Craft is a native of Ohio and product of Findlay Liberty-Benton High.

During his junior season, he was the Ohio Division V Player of the Year — in football. Craft played quarterback, but gave it up his senior year to focus on basketball.

It worked out well, with Craft landing at Ohio State, where he was named a first-team Academic All-American three straight years and Big Ten Tournament MVP in 2013. He graduated with a degree in nutrition sciences.

“My time at Ohio State was invaluable to me, and not just the basketball part,” he said. “It truly is one of the greatest universities in the country. I was able to meet people and create lasting friendships that I still value today.

“From the dorm to the locker room to the emergence of CRAFTroomies, I was very blessed to be surrounded by great people.”

The basketball itself wasn’t too bad, either.

“I was able to learn so much from great teammates and coaches,” he said of playing under Thad Matta. “The experiences of playing in big games, in big atmospheres, and in big moments all have helped my career since.

“Nothing compares to putting on the scarlet and grey and running out into hostile territory. I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to represent The Ohio State University.”

WINNING FEELING

Just like any athlete with pro sports dreams, Craft would gladly sign with any NBA team that offered him a shot.

But just like any Ohio sports fan, he closely watched as LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers captured the first championship in franchise history.

“It was great,” he said of the Cavs’ title. “I’m very happy for Cleveland and the state of Ohio in general.”

Of course, Craft’s allegiances aren’t limited to just basketball.

“The Indians should follow suit,” and win a championship of their own, he suggested.

In the meantime, Craft will focus on his own sport and going as far as basketball allows.

“I had a great opportunity with Trento, so I took it,” he said. “It’s also a good idea to start building a resume here in Europe, and work up to playing with bigger clubs and better leagues if things don’t work out in the States.

“I am trying to take it one year at a time, make the most of where I find myself, and see where that can take us.”

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