What can Aaron Craft possibly say in three seconds?
For Ohio State’s three-time Academic All-American who admits he can get so far inside his own head that he reverse-psychology-ed himself into doing exactly what he didn’t want to do in his final season of college basketball, maybe this is no surprise. The answer is that it doesn’t matter what Aaron Craft says in three seconds.
It’s not the words. It’s the act itself.
So at some point during his final home game as a Buckeye on Sunday, when Ohio State hosts Michigan State, Craft will rapidly curl and uncurl his fingers at his teammates, yell, "Come here, come here,” and corral them on the court for a three-second huddle of Zen camaraderie.
(Craft says former teammate Deshaun Thomas was the toughest to pull in. “He always just wanted to walk around,” Craft says. “But one of the best parts is that’s a time when I can grab somebody and force them and pull them somewhere and they can’t get angry about it. So I could grab DT and say, ‘Forget about that, next play.’”)
If you have paid attention during the 143 games, 116 wins, 4,638 minutes, 666 assists, 324 steals and 492 missed shots (can this guy hit a jumper?) of Craft’s career, you have seen the dives and the dishes and that shot that beat Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament and how cute people think he is. He was the Big Ten's Sixth Man of the year as a freshman, the Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore and a first-team All-Big Ten choice as a junior. And you may know he is marrying his high school girlfriend in August and he plans to be a doctor and he eats tacos with his roommates, and man, does ESPN announcer Dan Dakich love him.
But the huddles. If and when you remember Craft (“Will they remember you?” Long pause. “I don’t know. I don’t know,”), think of the huddles.
He has not called them as much recently. Maybe once or twice the last few games. There were times in the past when he must have hit double-digits in games.
“The last couple games, I think there have been a couple times where I’ve fallen short on that,” Craft says, “and it’s hurt our team.”
But when he is in a huddle with his teammates on a basketball court in the middle of an Ohio State game? That's just what Aaron Craft had hoped for.
“That goes back to when I was in high school,” Craft says. “And there were two things that I thought, ‘If this is what college basketball is about, I’m going to love it.’”
He is seated on a folding chair Monday in the Ohio State practice gym explaining this. He has just finished spending about an hour shooting a video to be shown to schoolchildren about eating healthy and exercising. When he told them to drink water, his inflection was spot on.
So, two things.
One thing was when a guy got knocked down and all his teammates sprinted to help him up.
“That was like, 'Dude, that is awesome,'” Craft says. “That is a team.”
The other thing was the huddle.
“I loved it. I don’t know what it was, but every time I saw it, I was like, ‘Man, I want to be part of that.’”
Some time during his sophomore season, on what would be a Final Four run for an OSU team that graduated three vital seniors from the team that was ranked No. 1 much of the previous season, Craft realized if wanted to be part of that, he had to create it.
“We were just having trouble staying connected and being together,” Craft says. “And I was like, ‘Make it you, man. Do it.’”
So he did. And the Buckeyes huddled to the last day of March, falling a basket short of the national title game.
“Half the time I don’t know what I’m doing to say,” Craft says. “I just love the fact we’re together.”
How you feel about the huddles depends on where you fall on the scale of Craftness.
Dakich, who has called several Ohio State games on ESPN this season, during one telecast said he’d take Craft on his team over any player in America. To say that about a player who sometimes shoots the ball like he just got his elbow out of a cast, and is averaging 9.4 points per game, is a bit much.
But that’s like-the-huddle territory. Great teammate, competitor, leader, etc.
If you are the person who sent national basketball writer Seth Davis the question for his mailbag that read, “How overrated is Aaron Craft?” you may fall on the enough-with-the-huddles-already side of things and be annoyed by the overt here-we-go-guys vibe of yet another team meeting.
While Craft has seemingly explored the metaphysical benefits of the three-second team-bonding exercises, the deep meaning may not translate. Asked during a quick walk down the hall if he much understood the huddling, OSU coach Thad Matta, who loves Craft as much as any player he has coached, asked of the topic, “What did Aaron say?”
Teammate Shannon Scott had a similar reaction. Good to stay together, no deep meaning.
But when it comes to appreciating, analyzing or, over-analyzing, Craft, his Craftness is part of the discussion. He is an excellent defender, and a pass-first point guard who works best when accenting other talent. He is an outstanding student, no doubt. He is one of four men's basketball players in Big Ten history to make Academic All-American three times.
What can Aaron Craft possibly say in three seconds?