A mission trip to Haiti. Getting engaged. Taking courses as he works toward earning his nutrition degree.
Senior point guard Aaron Craft had quite the summer — and still managed to work on his jump shot.
“It was probably one of the more challenging summers I’ve had, academic-wise, but I got to do some fun things,” Craft said Oct. 10 at OSU Media Day. “I got to go to a couple (basketball) camps, got to go to Haiti, I got engaged (to longtime girlfriend Amber Peterson). It was a good summer.”
The main facet of his game he wanted to change was his jump shot — mainly to remove the pause it had in hopes of making it more fluid.
“I worked hard. I don’t know what happened last year but we started from square one this spring,” Craft said, referencing his time in the gym with former assistant coach Chris Jent and assistant coach Greg Paulus. “It was tough — it was frustrating at times.”
Craft averaged 10 points per game last season, a career best, but only shot 41.7 percent from the field, and 30 percent from beyond the arc. Both career lows.
The 2012-13 second team All-Big Ten selection is sure to be counted on this season to shoulder more of a scoring load with the departure of Deshaun Thomas (team-leading 19.8 points per game in 2012-13) to the NBA Draft.
OSU coach Thad Matta said filling that void will not fall on one guy.
“When you think back, Deshaun got us a lot of big, important baskets. A lot of times we looked, we looked, we looked, we looked for Deshaun,” Matta said at Media Day. “The one thing I think we got right now going is a little bit more of a flow to our offense. I don’t want to label a guy and say ‘Hey, you’re Deshaun Thomas, you’re going to do what he did.’”
Craft agreed, adding that improving as a team is more important than a single player stepping up.
“You can’t replace Deshaun with just one person,” he said. “Even with him, we shot one of the worst percentages in coach’s career here at Ohio State. Our biggest focus is being able to knock down open shots, elevating our shooting percentage and that opens up countless other things on the offensive end.”
Craft’s work retooling his shot into more of a threat came from the team needing it to, but also because doing so is just how the man is wired.
“We watched tape, we knew what the problems were, things that I struggled with,” Craft said. “And not being able to go on the floor and correct it right away is very frustrating. Especially for a guy like me … it made me really angry. It took us a while, (but) we got there eventually.”
Refining his shot and other parts of his game came as no surprise to Matta.
“If there’s one person that you don’t have to challenge, it’s Aaron Craft,” he said.
The Buckeye point guard has been part of 94 of Matta’s 250 wins at OSU, and being a part of that standard of excellence is something he calls “a great blessing.”
“It’s amazing,” Craft said. “We are still a football school, but Coach Matta’s done leaps and bounds not to change that, but you know, understand that basketball is a big time program here. And being able to play a small role in that over my three years has been a great blessing for me.”
Being that this season is his point guard’s last hurrah, Matta knows Craft is really one of a kind.
“He’s special, he’s unique (as a player),” Matta said. “He wants to win and he wants to win the right way. And that is by playing great team basketball. He wants to represent this university the best that he can.”
Junior center Amir Williams, who will more than likely be a full-time starter along with Craft this winter after starting 26 of 37 contests last year, called Craft the “heart and pride” of the Buckeyes. Williams said his defensive prowess, which has garnered Craft numerous awards, namely 2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and 2013 Big Ten All-Defensive Team, is what sets him apart.
“He’s what makes us go. His hard work, his effort (on defense) … He’s very talkative,” Williams said. “We see him out there competing and giving his all, that forces us more to give our all out there.”
Matta said Craft has not been shy about telling his teammates what to do on that side of the ball.
“Aaron is more vocal to what he’s seeing,” Matta said. “He’s, in my mind, always doing the right thing (on defense).”
With pressure mounting to continue and even exceed the high-caliber play that has become the norm for the program since before he arrived in Columbus in 2011, enjoying his final year as a Buckeye is the only thing Craft has on his mind.
“It’s crazy. It’s gone by fast. I’ve loved every moment I’ve had here,” Craft said. “The biggest thing (fellow senior) Lenzelle (Smith Jr.) and I are trying to do is make the most of this last year. We really think the best is ahead of us.”
Craft and company are scheduled to open regular season play Nov. 9 against Morgan State at the Schottenstein Center.
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