Ohio State Legacy: Aaron Craft

Ranking first in both steals and assists in Ohio State history, Aaron Craft has had one of the most productive careers of any Buckeye in school history. With his Senior Day around the corner, we look at the legacy that Craft is leaving behind in Columbus after a career that almost wasn't spent there.

It took convincing from Jared Sullinger for Thad Matta to extend a scholarship offer to Aaron Craft. But it didn't take long for the five-star prospect's recommendation to pay dividends for the Ohio State head coach.

It's hard to believe now that Matta wasn't immediately sold on Craft, who ranks as the Buckeyes' all-time leader in both steals and assists. Also currently tied for the Big Ten's all-time steals record, the 19th-ranked point guard in the 2010 class has enjoyed one of the more storied careers in college basketball history -- one that was almost spent elsewhere.

"When I committed to Ohio State, Coach Matta said we need to add more people to the class. Not more so, you know, top-ranked basketball players, but solid basketball players," Sullinger said. "I kept telling him about Aaron. I was like, ‘Coach, get Aaron. You got to get Aaron.'"

At the time, Craft was committed to Tennessee. But as the Findlay, Ohio native's junior year of high school came to a close, the coveted offer from the Buckeyes finally came and Craft felt comfortable enough to make the switch.

"It was one of these deals that, 'There's something about that kid,'" Matta said. "We were recruiting, on paper, better guards. But I remember telling the coaches, 'Hey, let's watch him through his junior year and get a better feel for him.'"

It didn't take long for Matta to realize that he was getting something special.

The 6-2, 195-pound Craft wasn't a starter in his freshman season, but he might as well have been. Coming off the bench -- and sometimes never returning -- after most initial media timeouts, the freshman guard helped lead Ohio State to a 34-3 season that came to a close with a loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

Starring alongside Sullinger, Craft was named the Big Ten's Sixth Man of the Year after posting averages of 6.9 points, 4.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game.

"We talked Sunday as a staff and (said), 'If we didn't have Aaron Craft, what a different basketball team we would be,'" Matta said in January 2011.

Craft's sophomore season saw even more success for the Liberty-Benton product, who was named the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year while leading the Buckeyes to a second consecutive Big Ten championship. And unlike the previous year, Ohio State's postseason success wasn't cut short in 2012.

Craft scored 17 points in the third round against Gonzaga and 11 points against Cincinnati in the Sweet 16 as the Buckeyes advanced to the Final Four, losing to Kansas in the national semifinal. Setting Ohio State's all-time single season steals record with 98, Craft averaged 8.8, 4.6 assists and 2.5 steals during his sophomore campaign.

Asked to shoulder a larger load in the 2012-13 season, Craft did just that -- albeit later rather than sooner.

With Sullinger and William Buford no longer by his side, Craft averaged a career-best 10.0 points per game. But midseason struggles saw some question his ability on the offensive end of the floor and were only amplified when a 2-of-9 outing low-lighted a 22-point loss at the hands of Wisconsin.

With the Buckeyes' season seemingly in shambles, Craft, however, bounced back to play some of the best basketball of his career.

Craft scored a career-high 21 points in a Feb. 24 win over Michigan State before posting 15 points in a victory in Bloomington over eventual league champion Indiana. The junior guard scored 20 points in a rematch with the Spartans en route to being named the Big Ten tournament's most outstanding player and his postseason heroics were just getting started.

With second-seeded Ohio State's season on the line in the third round against Iowa State, Craft came up with an impressive 18-point, six-assist effort. His stellar effort against the Cyclones, however, will be best remembered for his game-winning three-pointer, which sealed a 78-75 victory for the Buckeyes.

After losing to Wichita State in the Elite Eight, the 2013 All-Big Ten selection headed into his senior season with already one of the most impressive legacies in Ohio State history in hand. But early departures have taken a toll on this year's Buckeyes' team, who at 22-8 sit in sixth place in the Big Ten standings.

Heading into his Senior Day on Sunday, Craft is averaging 9.4 points, 4.5 assists and 2.5 steals. His shooting percentage is actually up from a season ago (from 41.7 to 47.6), but so are his turnovers, which sit at a career-worst 2.5 per game.

Offensively, Craft admittedly has his shortcomings but the defensive end of the floor is where he's made his mark for the better part of his career. He may not be a go-to-guy despite his status one of college basketball's biggest stars, but with what's left of his college career, he can only add to his impressive Ohio State legacy.

And what exactly is Craft's legacy? It's complicated given his status as one of the best defenders in Ohio State history and offensive inefficiency. But whatever it is, it's already even better than Sullinger advertised it'd be five years ago.

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