Ex-Ohio State basketball star Aaron Craft nears end of his playing days
For the entirety of his adult life, Aaron Craft has been blessed to live out one of his childhood dreams.
Now, before hitting age 30, the former Ohio State basketball star is in the midst of what will almost certainly be his final season on the hardwood.
Next summer, when his sixth professional season draws to a close, Craft will leave Trento, Italy, for the last time and return to his alma mater to officially begin medical school. Barring some sort of overwhelming financial offer from a top-tier team, Craft is playing what figures to be his last season as a pro.
“The greatest thing is I have an opportunity to chase two of the dreams that I had when I was a little kid before I turn 30, and not many people get to say that,” he told The Dispatch in a recent phone interview from Italy. “I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. It felt like this was the right moment. I’m comfortable with the decision stopping after this year, pending something crazy, which I don’t think is going to happen.”
It’s not a decision Craft came to lightly. And as the season got underway, that feeling was still a weird one for him to wrap his head around.
It’s at least the second or third time Craft has been close to heading back to school. Three years ago, Craft said he told his agent to look for a league that plays a short season because he was planning to be done only to land his biggest contract yet and play in Monaco for the 2017-18 season. Then he signed with a team in Montenegro that was part of the EuroLeague, which is made up of the top club teams on the continent, the next season. All the while, he was studying for his MCAT.
He took the test during the summer of 2018 after spending his summers back in Ohio shadowing physicians and trying to polish up his resume. In January, he learned that he had been accepted and had a decision to make about the upcoming year: Should he play for Carmen’s Crew in The Basketball Tournament and then one more season at Trento, or cut ties and start school that summer?
Ohio State let him defer, guaranteeing his spot for 2020. Then he re-signed with Trento, won a TBT title and began the preparation for his final year. He is hopeful he can participate in next summer’s TBT, but the possibility exists that mandatory orientation for medical school will again overlap with the championship weekend for the tournament.
“I didn’t come back just to collect a paycheck and get through the season,” he said. “I came back and I’m competitive. I want to win. I want to do everything I can to help this team be successful like I have every other year that I’ve played. That’s really where a lot of my energy and focus is going right now, trying to make the most of this season.”
Once it’s complete, Craft, his wife, Amber, and son, Owen, will return to Ohio and put down roots. It will be eight years before he’s out of medical school training, Craft said, with more time possibly required depending on what specialty he opts to pursue. Sports medicine is a possible path, he said. Physicians and nurses Craft has gotten to know have told him that his personality fits that of a surgeon.
The desire to enter the field came from watching shows like “House” while growing up and being interested in math and science. A human nutrition major, Craft said upon his arrival at Ohio State that he assumed his path was to become a physician and not a professional basketball player, a concept seldom expressed out loud at the time.
Now a path that took him from the NBA’s development league to multiple teams across Europe appears to be leading him back home. When he does, Craft said he will bring with him an appreciation for his former coaches and teammates, a much better world view, a greater appreciation for different perspectives and an even stronger belief that this is the path God has laid out for him.
“You have a trajectory for how you think your life should go and what’s next and God just kind of gently laughs and says, ‘You think that’s great, but I have something that’s better,’ ” Craft said. “Every year coming over here has helped me manage expectations well, knowing God takes you where you need to go, not always where you want to go.”
Sometimes that’s right back to where you started.