Craft Hoping To Outsmart Gophers

Thrice named an Academic All-American and twice selected as the men's basketball Academic All-American of the Year, you'd be hard pressed to find a player in college basketball more intelligent than Aaron Craft. And as the Buckeyes enter their final stretch of the regular season, it's Craft's smarts that could make the difference, starting with Saturday's rematch against Minnesota.

You may have heard this before, but Aaron Craft is smart.

Like, really really smart.

So much so, in fact, that on Thursday, the Ohio State senior point guard was selected as an Academic All-American for the third time in his college career, and was also named the men's basketball Academic All-American of the Year for the second consecutive season. In doing so, Craft becomes just the fourth Big Ten player in history to accomplish the former, while becoming the third college basketball player ever to attain the latter.

A nutrition major who dreams of one day attending medical school, Craft's resume off the court practically matches what he's accomplished on it, making the Findlay, Ohio native a refreshing star in today's day and age of one-and-done college basketball players.

"It's crazy. When we got here as a freshman, that was one of the goals we set for myself with my advisors here and Coach (Thad) Matta himself," Craft said of his Academic All-American status. "Coach Matta, he loves the academic side of things. He thinks there's a big tie between academics and being on the floor. That encourages us to do well in the classroom."

That claim may be true -- and even supported by Craft's status as one of the Big Ten's top players for each of the past four seasons -- but the demands and responsibilities that Craft holds far exceeds that of your standard student-athlete.

In addition to being one of college basketball's top players and students, Craft is also active member of Athletes in Action, a Christian ministry for student athletes at OSU. Matta has even mentioned that he has had to cut Craft off from on-campus speaking engagements, as the 2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year has a tough time turning down requests.

Craft is also involved in an internship and is already engaged to Ohio State student Amber Peterson, a responsibility that he joked -- at least I think he was joking -- is his "toughest." With so much to do and so few hours, it'd be easy to understand if Craft felt overwhelmed and began to view basketball like an actual job -- a la Northwestern football -- but the Liberty-Benton product insists that's not the case.

"If that ever thought ever crosses my mind, it leaves when you get to put on the jersey and play in front of 18,000 people at a home game," Craft said. "We get to experience a lot of things that a lot of people don't and because of that we have to go through and discipline ourselves in ways that other people don't have to."

As for Matta's hypothesis that intelligence off the court translate to intelligence on it, Craft's could come in handy on Saturday when the Buckeyes will host a Minnesota squad that already lays claim to a Jan. 16 win over Ohio State earlier this season. Having studied the Golden Gophers not once but twice this season, the Big Ten's leader in steals is hopeful that his preparation will payoff in Saturday's rematch.

"I've been relying on them quite a bit since I've been playing the game," Craft said of his smarts. "Usually the second game, depending on what happened in the first, you can have a little extra motivation. Obviously with them beating us the first time, we don't want to be swept in the league by them. I think that may add into it.

Matta, for his part, not only stands by his assessment of a classroom-to-court carryover, but said that this is the time of year when it matters most. Seeing opponents for a second time in the season, it's Ohio State's smarts that could make the difference, which is something that could bode well for the Buckeyes thanks to Craft.

"When you guys that think the game and you have guys that can watch film and you see the questions they ask and their minds working in terms of, ‘Okay, how is that advantageous to help us play better?' -- yeah, that's a big, big difference," Matta said.

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