As the face of Ohio State basketball enters his senior season, expectations have never been higher for Aaron Craft.
CBSSports.com recently named him to its Preseason All-American Second Team, essentially deeming him the best point guard in the nation not named Marcus Smart. Even though Deshaun Thomas, the Big Ten's leading scorer in 2012-13, declared for the NBA draft, the Buckeyes are still expected to contend for a conference title, largely because of Craft.
But there was a time not that long ago that Craft was overshadowed by his teammates. He played AAU ball in high school with the likes of Jared Sullinger, Adreian Payne, Jordan Sibert and J.D. Weatherspoon and made more headlines for his role in Bruce Pearl’s undoing than anything else when he was being recruited.
It’s worth taking a look back at Craft’s high school scouting report as he enters his senior season to see if the Buckeye point guard lived up to his billing in what is shaping up to be a great career.
The following is a segment from Craft’s biography as a high school senior via Scout.com:
Former football recruit turned full-time basketball player. This young man made his mark as a defensive wizard and one of the best on the ball defenders in his class. Takes what is given on offense. Needs to tighten up his work behind the arc. Top 100 player who is destined to be a productive college lead guard.
The same scouting report listed defensive presence, leadership and passing as strengths and speed, perimeter shot and strength as areas for improvement. Craft was given a 4-star rating and deemed the No. 19 point guard in the 2010 class.
Before getting into the details of the profile, don’t be taken aback by the No. 19 ranking among point guards. We are talking about a group that included Kyrie Irving, Josh Selby, Brandon Knight, Cory Joseph, Ray McCallum, Joe Jackson, Kendall Marshall, Trevor Releford, Phil Pressey and Shabazz Napier.
That’s not to say Craft belongs in the 19 spot with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight (because he doesn’t), just that the 2010 recruiting class was loaded with elite point guard talent.
The most elite part of Craft’s game at the college level is clearly his defense, and judging by his scouting report, that was the case in high school as well. The term “defensive wizard” is a very adept way of describing the way he impacts games today when the opposition has the ball, and he remains one of the best (if not the best) on-ball defenders in the country.
No Ohio State player has ever had more steals in a career than Craft, and he still has one full season of steals remaining.
Furthermore, leadership is still a tremendous strength of Craft’s. He serves as an extension of Thad Matta on the floor and is never afraid to let his teammates know what needs to be done.
It is absolutely cliché sometimes to focus on the “intangibles” of a pass-first point guard who does all the little things on the defensive end and just seems like a winner, but it’s hard to avoid those generalizations when describing Craft. He impacts the game in such unique ways outside of scoring that the clichés are simply true.
As for the areas for improvement, any Buckeye fan will tell you Craft’s perimeter shot still could use some work. Yes, he hit the monumental three at the buzzer to knock off Iowa State in the NCAA tournament, but Craft’s three-point percentage has decreased every season he has been in Columbus.
He only shot 30 percent from downtown in 2012-13 (he was at a respectable 37.7 percent as a freshman and 35.9 as a sophomore), partially because he forced the issue at times. As a senior, Craft should pick and choose his spots from behind the arc and look to score more by attacking the rim (something we saw more of down the stretch last year).
Regardless of the need for better perimeter shooting, Craft will finish his career as one of the best Buckeyes of all time. His high school scouting report did say he would be a productive collegiate lead guard, but there’s no way it fully anticipated just how productive he would become.
Follow and interact with Ohio State basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.