Craft, Diebler Battled As Youngsters

Aaron Craft (pictured) and Jon Diebler are two key members of Ohio State's rotation. As it turns out, the two Buckeyes have a shared past that goes back to Diebler's middle-school days and a drill during which a much younger Craft nearly got the upper hand.

Jon Diebler and Aaron Craft have been teammates for nearly nine months now at Ohio State, but a few years ago they could perhaps have been described as adversaries.

Diebler, a senior, graduated from Upper Sandusky, Ohio. Craft worked his way through the prep ranks at Findlay (Ohio) Liberty-Benton. But for four years, they both went to school in Fostoria, Ohio, and it was not long before their paths would cross.

When Craft was in third grade, Diebler and his family moved to the district from Gibsonburg, Ohio. Diebler's oldest brother, Jeremiah, had been a prolific scorer for the Golden Bears under the direction of his father and head coach, Keith. Then a sixth grader, Jon began playing middle school basketball for head coach John Craft – Aaron's father.

Despite the difference in age, it was not long before the two were going head-to-head – and it was the youngster who nearly had the advantage. In the drill – called Louisville – one player would roll the basketball to one of the assembled players on the baseline. Those two players would then have to play one-on-one for a chance to eliminate the other and the drill would continue until one person knocked everyone out.

"I missed a shot, I played good D on him, he missed and then I had a pull-up that rimmed out that I thought was game," Aaron told "I ended up missing and then he ended up scoring the next possession but I gave him a run for his money and I definitely don't let him forget about it.

"That's a story that sticks in my head a lot just because I always like to hold it over his head that I almost beat him as a third-grader."

Said Jon: "He's been saying that forever and I seriously do not remember that."

It was just one of many shared moments that paved the way for both players to end up playing for the Buckeyes. Jon became close friends with Aaron's older brother, Brandon, a classmate who went on to play football at Findlay. Those two would hang out and Aaron was never far behind.

"He was good at a lot of things," Diebler said of Aaron. "I would go over to his house a lot on the weekends and he would always be there bugging us."

Neither one finished his career at Fostoria, with Diebler moving to Upper Sandusky following his freshman season and Craft heading to Liberty-Benton after fifth grade. But before that happened, the two Craft boys and the youngest Diebler were a fixture in the school gym.

Craft's father said they would play two-on-two after practice: the father and youngest Craft son against the older brother and Jon. It was just one example of how much Aaron was involved with the older group.

"Aaron would always jump in drills," John Craft said. "It didn't matter what drill it was: if it was possible, Aaron would get in. Even if it was defensive drills. Most kids would just get in drills where they would dribble, shoot, pass. Aaron would jump in for defensive drills."

Although the families would eventually go their separate ways, Jon and Brandon remained close friends. During the Memorial Day holiday weekend shortly before Diebler was set to start his OSU career, the future Buckeye was set to spend the weekend at the Craft household. The only problem was that Aaron and his parents were in Columbus for an AAU tournament.

After playing two games on a Friday night, Aaron and his team were done around 9 p.m. Once he learned that Jon would be there, Aaron insisted on going home to hang out despite needing to be back in Columbus for as many as three games starting at 10 a.m. the next day.

Around 1 a.m. that night, the Craft parents were awakened when they heard the unmistakable sound of a basketball thumping in their driveway.

"They have this dim light on and these guys are out there playing one-on-one," he said. "I stick my head out the window and say, ‘Aaron, what are you doing?' He said, ‘I'll be all right, dad. I'll get up. Don't worry.'

"My wife and I go down there and they have their shirts off. They are sweating. They're not just playing pig. There's Aaron trying to body up Jon, who's 6-6 and Aaron was not even 6-foot. I remember Aaron, ‘Come on you Big Ten player, let's see what you have.' "

According to Craft's father, the result was a number of two-handed dunks from Diebler, who had nearly reached his current listed height of 6-6. That next day, Craft and his All-Ohio Red team captured a championship by winning all three games.

Fast-forward four years and it appears little has changed aside from the fact that the two are finally teammates.

"He likes to bring up things he's done to me during the summer and one-on-one," Aaron said. "I'm always like, ‘I've always had the upper hand on you, man. I've had your number for a while.' "

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