The door closed on Aaron Craft’s basketball career Wednesday. Or did it? The former Ohio State guard seemed to be allowing a little room for light to shine through.
On Wednesday afternoon, Craft and top-seeded Carmen’s Crew found itself coping with a sudden exit from The Basketball Tournament at the hands of an Illinois alumni team called House of ’Paign.
A 76-68 defeat sent the defending champions home in their first game of this year’s 24-team tournament, being held in quarantine at Nationwide Arena. The loss also plunged the team of former Buckeyes into offseason questions about future plans.
None of them loomed as large as Craft’s. Before rejoining Carmen’s Crew this year, Ohio State’s official leader in career steals and unofficial leader in hustle announced his plans to retire following this year’s tournament in order to attend medical school at OSU later this summer.
A one-and-done TBT showing definitely was not how Craft envisioned ending his professional playing career, and he expressed as much. But asked about whether Wednesday’s loss truly was the end, he said, "I have no idea. I can’t say yes. I definitely can’t say no."
Seated to his left, Jon Diebler, his teammate at Ohio State and on Carmen’s Crew, said, "We’ll talk to him."
In truth, there’s probably not much wiggle room for Craft and his future plans. It’s a decision he’s debated for a few years, one he solidly arrived on last summer and one that he stressed makes the most sense for his family.
A "perfect storm," as he put it, got him here. After spending the past six years playing overseas, including the past two years in Italy, the chance to be close to family and friends is a significant factor. The 29-year-old Craft and his wife, Amber, have a 17-month-old son, Owen, which got him thinking about his future.
"Going to school now provides me an opportunity to really set up a career for the rest of my life," he said. "My body still feels good. I could still play and play for, who knows, maybe five or six more years. But if I jump off now and go to school I have a career I can do by the time I’m 35 or 36 that I could do for 30 years."
Ironically, if not for the coronavirus pandemic, Craft’s starting medical school would have interfered with later rounds of TBT as originally scheduled, in late July or early August. Instead, the tournament reduced its field from 64 to 24 teams and was moved to July 4-14, to avoid conflict with the NBA’s return.
In the loss to No. 16 seed House of ‘Paign, Craft finished with four points, seven rebounds and five assists despite suffering a third-quarter knee injury.
"I’m pretty sure I just hyperextended my knee," he said. "It’s going to be sore for a couple of days, but I don’t think it’ll be anything serious. I don’t think it affected me down the stretch, really."
It was on his mind after the game, though. When discussing his future, Craft pointed out that his knee "hurts a lot right now" and that he doesn’t know what shape he’ll be in a year from now. Diebler said other current members of Carmen’s Crew will "play it by ear" but figure to reprise their roles next summer.
It wasn’t a place Craft was prepared to go to mentally just yet.
"There are a lot of thoughts going through my mind right now, a lot of emotions," he said. "I don’t know how chubby I’m going to be next summer anyways. They may not want me back."