In late June, Aaron Craft took a brief break from his busy course load to travel to travel to Union, N.J. and take part in the Nike-sponsored Kyrie Irving Point Guard Skills Academy.
What exactly happened during the Ohio State point guard’s trip to the Garden State is still a mystery to some.
According to DraftExpress.com, Craft more than held his own against the player with his name on the camp, picking him up full court in scrimmages and making him work to advance the ball. While each player admitted to playing against one another in competitive sessions, both Craft and Irving downplayed their on-court matchup.
“It was fun,” Craft said. “It was the first time I’d ever done anything like that.”
“He’s a good defender,” Irving told BuckeyeSports.com. “People were tweeting, ‘Aaron Craft got the best of Kyrie at camp.’ That stuff is for all of you guys to kind of eat up. I am where I am.”
But while it remains unclear how the 2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year actually faired against the 2013 NBA All-Star, this much is clear: Craft earned Irving’s respect during his visit to New Jersey.
Before taking the court for a preseason game between his Cleveland Cavaliers and the Philadelphia 76ers inside of Columbus’ Schottenstein Center on Tuesday, Irving said that there isn’t a doubt in his mind that Craft could play at the NBA level. Although evaluations of Craft as a pro prospect have been mixed through the first three years of his college career, Irving has remained impressed by his intangibles, which have helped make the Findlay, Ohio native one of the faces of college basketball.
“Oh yeah. I believe so,” Irving said when asked if Craft could cut it in the NBA. “He’s a leader, he’s a tough defender, he’s been working on his offensive game. I’m interested to see the things that he’s learned from the camp and the things that he’s accomplished this summer in terms of his game and see the difference between his junior and senior year.
“He did well against the other campers. He played me tough and I know he learned a lot at the camp.”
Asked if he could play at basketball’s highest level, Craft gave his typical modest answer. Although he may not know whether or not he’ll be playing in the NBA at this time next year, he’d certainly like to be.
“I hope so. If not, we’ll see what happens,” Craft said. “When you come to college and you come and play at a place like Ohio State, you want to go play at the next level.”
While he’s primarily made a name for himself as a defender as a three-time All-Big Ten defensive team selection, Craft has shown flashes on the opposite end of the floor, averaging 10 points per game in his junior season and three times topping the 20-point mark in games. Craft might not ever be your prototypical offensive-minded pro player, but according to OSU coach Thad Matta -- who has had at least one player drafted in each of the past seven NBA drafts -- that shouldn’t stop him from making his way onto a team’s roster once his college career comes to an end.
“A lot of NBA teams like to carry three point guards,” Matta pointed out. “The one thing about Aaron Craft is he wins. There’s a huge premium in my mind for guys who do that.”
Heading into the 2013-14 season, Draft Express ranks Craft as the No. 55 prospect in the 2014 draft, while ESPN.com places him significantly lower at No. 84. The gap between the two rankings would mean the difference between Craft being drafted or not, but both evaluations seem to agree that there are more positives than negatives when it comes to the 6-2, 195-pounder, with each praising his leadership qualities, basketball IQ, and court vision as a point guard.
It remains to be seen if those aspects of Craft’s game will be enough for NBA general managers to overlook any offensive limitations he may have. But in the meantime, he has a fan two hours up I-71 North, who’s hopeful that he can get another shot against his former camper.
“Coach Matta, he’s had a number of pros. At one time, The Ohio State University was the school to be at and they still are a top five program in the nation. They always are, especially when they have a point guard like Aaron Craft there,” Irving said. “He’s going to do big things at Ohio State and hopefully I’ll see him next year.”