Aaron Craft's Legacy Won't Be Impacted by Early 2014 NCAA Tournament Exit

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2014

Mar 20, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA;Ohio State Buckeyes guard Aaron Craft (4) drives to the basket against Ohio State Buckeyes in the second half of a men's college basketball game during the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps what you'll remember about Aaron Craft is the missed layup against Dayton in the NCAA tournament round of 64 as time expired. Or maybe you'll remember the ball bobbling out of his hands against Michigan in the Big Ten tournament days before, as he went to attempt a game-winning shot.

Maybe you'll choose to remember that there was something about Craft that sort of annoyed you. He was too squeaky clean. Too beloved by certain media members. Too technically sound, not athletic enough or exciting enough.

If any of the above is how you choose to remember Craft, well, you really missed the point.

No, Craft wasn't a great athlete. He always had a limited offensive game (the 10 points per game he averaged last season was a career high). He too often was given the stereotypical label of "scrappy," the default designation for a white player whose athleticism isn't great but one who still manages to play well.

And, yes, play-by-play announcers would fawn over him. His leadership. His defense. His determination. His effort. His old-fashioned style. His team-before-individual mentality.

But maybe they fawned because all of those things were true.

Then again, people could get a little carried away praising Craft. Somewhere along the way, he became Tim Tebow Lite. You don't have to look far to find "Craft burnout."

From Ken Pomeroy:

Here's Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports:

We end with Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated:

Could you enjoy watching Craft and respect his game while wishing certain media folks hadn't acted like he carried a cross on his back during games?

Sure. Did many people instead decide to just despise Craft despite the fact that he was nothing more than a hard-working college kid who was a very good player but couldn't control other people's opinions of him?

Yup. Easier that way. Nuance can cause brain cramps.

Before the tournament, Craft acknowledged that the hatred of him had intensified this season, as he told Rick Reilly of ESPN:

"The verbal assaults really got tense this year," he said. "They're at my fiancé, at my sister. They even said my mom is a bad cook. Now hold on. That's not even true. My mom is a great cook. Her lasagna is fantastic."

Somehow, someone out there dislikes Craft for that comment, too. 

Make no mistake about it, Craft had an excellent college career. He may not have blown anyone away with his scoring, but he is Ohio State's all-time leader in steals and assists. He was a smothering on-ball defender. He's earned enough accolades and awards to fill a book.

The disappointment against Dayton is the first time Craft has failed to lead Ohio State to the Sweet 16 in his four years with the Buckeyes. Two years ago, he led them to the Final Four. Last year, it was the Elite Eight.

And who could forget his game-winning shot against Iowa State in the round of 32 just a year ago?

Or that in the next round against Arizona, he would again find himself with the ball in his hands in a tie game. This time, however, he passed to hot hand LaQuinton Ross, who promptly sunk the game-winning three. He could have been selfish; instead, he was smart.

But this year, against Dayton, he couldn't quite muster enough magic to hit another game-winner.

Sure, it was Craft who gave Ohio State a 59-58 lead with just 17 seconds remaining, driving to the lane and hitting a clutch layup. But racing down the court with just six seconds left on the clock after Dayton's Vee Sanford retook the lead for the Flyers, Craft couldn't get his contested shot to go, as his effort off the backboard painfully caromed off the front of the rim.

There was Craft, on his back, watching the last shot he'd ever take for Ohio State fall to the floor. He'd just given Ohio State 16 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals, the ultimate Craft stat line.

Hell, he'd just given them four great years. 

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 20: Aaron Craft #4 of the Ohio State Buckeyes reacts after losing to the Dayton Flyers 60-59 in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the First Niagara Center on March 20, 2014 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo b
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

His coach, Thad Matta, certainly believes you should remember him as one of the all-time great Buckeyes, via Paul Schwartz of the New York Post:

But go ahead, remember him for costing you a billion dollars because you picked Ohio State to win (though c'mon, you weren't going to finish with a perfect bracket anyway). Remember his jumper betraying him. Remember the old-fashioned, scrappy basketball Tebow that could do no wrong.

Or, remember a good player, a good teammate, a good student and a good guy who gave his team everything he had. He wasn't perfect, but he certainly appeared to be one of the good ones.

Yeah, remember that instead.