Craft has new perspective on basketball

Adam Jardy

When the ball is tipped and the game is on, the Aaron Craft you see today bears every resemblance to the version Ohio State basketball fans fondly remember. There’s the all-out hustle, the will to win and, of course, the red cheeks that have always reflected his competitive nature

But the similarities end there. Now four years removed from his Buckeyes career, the fan favorite has made a living playing basketball overseas and also is in his second year of suiting up for team Scarlet & Gray in The Basketball Tournament. That journey resumes at 9 p.m., Friday, with a Super 16 game against Primetime Players, a semi-pro team based in South Carolina. ESPN will televise the game.

The ultimate goal is to be playing in the TBT championship game for the $2 million prize, Aug. 3, in Baltimore.

Craft wants to win. He always does. But winning isn’t the only thing for him anymore in a game that has taken the 27-year-old around the world and helped make him financially secure.

“I don’t think I’m chasing anything,” he said after a recent workout in the practice gym at Value City Arena. “I’m too old now. My joy is not wrapped up in how I perform anymore. I want to win. I want to compete and do everything I can to win when I’m on the floor. It’s obvious every time I do it, but I’m not chasing a high or anything like that.”

Seated in one of several chairs lined up along the wall, Craft was at the arena on a day when a tentatively planned walk-through for Scarlet & Gray didn’t come to fruition because some players had scheduling conflicts.

After his season in Monaco ended with Game 5 loss in the championship series, Craft signed a one-year contract to play in Montenegro and didn’t return to the United States until June 27. He had barely been back for two weeks before he was on the court trying to stay sharp.

Working alone on this day, Craft got up about 500 shots with the help of a shooting machine. When finished, he folded it and rolled it away himself.

“What I like to do in the summer is try to get as many shots up as possible,” he said. “It is what it is: I’ve never been an amazing shooter, so if I can do something in the summer to help me feel confident moving into the next season, that helps a tremendous amount.”

The drive to be in the gym working on his craft has always been there for Craft. While at Ohio State, he said, it was common for him to be home in Findlay for just a few days before cutting a break short to return to campus and resume working out.

In that sense, workouts such as Tuesday’s haven’t changed much. Looking back, Craft talked of trying to put banners on the walls and get his picture in the paper.

“Those things are good things, but when it transitions over to the ultimate thing, that’s an issue,” he said. “There’s always another game. There’s always another performance. There’s always more people to please. (During) my time at Ohio State, as I got older, I talked the right game, but internally it wasn’t there. I still chased after those things. Now you have a greater appreciation because you know things can end at any moment.”

And make no mistake about it: He still wants to win.

“We had a lot of success this year, but we ended up losing in the finals, and I’d lie to you if I said I’m not frustrated and angry and kicking stuff after the game, but I think it’s a quicker turnaround for me now,” he said. “I just realized how transient things are, how fickle the game of basketball can be.

“It’s clear that God has a bigger and much better plan than I think I have, so it’s my job to take that in stride and try to grow through it.”