Picking the all-time greats at any marquee college basketball program is never an easy ordeal.
Sure, there’s the names everyone knows like Michael Jordan at North Carolina, Magic Johnson at Michigan State, Bill Walton and Lew Alcindor at UCLA and even Larry Bird at Indiana State, but even then we are leaving hundreds of superstars out of the fold.
If we are talking all-time greats, Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek have every right to throw their names in the ring, especially when it comes to Ohio State history. However, it gets a bit trickier after that for the Buckeye program.
Specifically, where do we place the rosy-cheeked greatness that is Aaron Craft when formulating the list of the best players to ever don Scarlet and Gray?
Regardless of where Craft ranks among Ohio State’s greats, it would be wise for Buckeye Nation to enjoy Craft while it can. There isn’t going to be a show like this in Columbus anytime in the near future, and the expiration date is quickly approaching.
What makes Craft’s position on the all-time Buckeye list so difficult to determine is the reality that he doesn’t score at the rate many are accustomed to in today’s 140-character, highlight-driven sports world.
Style over substance may sound like a cliche, but Craft isn’t one to make an unbelievable dunk and then take the next three plays off because he guaranteed his spot on SportsCenter's Top 10 list (looking at you, Blake Griffin).
Even Craft's head coach has trouble pinning down exactly how valuable he is to Ohio State.
“It’s hard to put into words what Aaron has meant to this program and to this university,” Thad Matta said (per Michael Citro of Eleven Warriors).
One thing that doesn’t work in Craft’s favor is the fact that he isn’t brought up when discussing future NBA lottery picks. That may devalue his contributions in the eyes of some, but it absolutely shouldn’t if we are talking strictly college basketball.
Can Aaron Craft succeed in the NBA?
Craft cemented his Ohio State legacy when the Buckeyes handled North Dakota State on Dec. 14. The victory was impressive, but the real story in the aftermath was that Craft picked up his 581st career assist, which is more than anyone in the history of the program.
Oh, and Craft has already held the all-time Ohio State record in steals, to which he adds every time he takes the floor (he currently sits at 272). Craft’s historical rank as a Buckeye may be up for debate, but his status as the premier defender in all of college basketball shouldn’t even be questioned.
Then there is Craft’s actual resume, which is more illustrious than many realize.
The following is a cliff-notes version of what Craft has accomplished at Ohio State, but it certainly doesn’t include every distinction that has been thrown his way:
2013 Big Ten Tournament MVP, 2013 First Team All-Big Ten (media), 2013 Second Team All-Big Ten (coaches), 2013 Big Ten All-Defensive Team (coaches), 2013 Capital One Academic All-America of the Year, 2012-13 Bob Cousy Award Semifinalist, 2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, 2012 Third Team All-Big Ten (media), 2012 Big Ten Sportsmanship Award, 2012 Bob Cousy Award Semifinalist, 2011 Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year and 2011 Big Ten All-Freshman Team (media and coaches)
While the list of accomplishments is certainly impressive, the reality that Craft is arguably the best passer and defender in Ohio State’s lengthy history is why he is even in this discussion of all-time best Buckeyes.
In fact, by the time Craft leaves Columbus he will have crushed both the steals and assist records. Sure, individual scoring is obviously important, but no team can win if it doesn’t stop the other team or have someone setting up his teammates for success.
Craft does both better than anyone to ever play at Ohio State.
Those records are tangible numbers that can be pointed to when discussing Craft’s greatness, but he does so much more that could never be picked up by a box score. He draws charges. He deflects passes. He forces travels and five-second calls on inbounds plays. He wrecks opposing game plans.
Craft suffocates the opponent’s best ball-handler for 40 minutes to the point where the player is so visibly frustrated by the end of the game that the best play would just be to remove the ball from his hands.
It is a testament to Craft’s work ethic and greatness that it doesn’t matter whether he is hounding National Player of the Year Trey Burke or a no-name point guard from a directional school in late November—the effort is always there.
Craft is also the only player in program history to total more than 1,000 points, 500 assists and 250 steals. So let’s put to bed the lazy and inaccurate narrative that he is only a defender and can’t do anything else.
In fact, for as much heat as Craft takes for his scoring ability, only 44 Buckeyes have tallied more points in their careers. He will also pass a couple more names on that list before this season is in the books.
Craft may not be Reggie Miller from behind the three-point line, but his ability to get to the rim and finish is the most underrated part of his entire game. Oh, and the biggest shot of his career just so happened to take place behind the arc.
For all the accomplishments on the court, the Big Ten titles, the Final Four appearance, the 104 wins (and counting) and the invaluable leadership, the one glaring thing missing from Craft’s resume is a national championship.
Ohio State as a whole has only won one national title in its history, but Lucas and Havlicek were the key cogs on that squad and the most important players to ever suit up in Scarlet and Gray.
However, when we extend the list past those top two, Craft is certainly in the discussion. Names such as Evan Turner, Jim Jackson, Dennis Hopson, Neil Johnston, Arnie Risen and even Clark Kellogg come to mind, but valid arguments can be made for Craft’s career achievements against any of them.
Craft may not be better than every player on the all-time Ohio State list, but he could certainly guard them if they had the ball in their hands.
Follow and interact with Bleacher Report writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.