Glue Guy Due in 2010

There's always been a warm spot in the hearts of Big Orange basketball fans for that blue collar type who lays it on the line all the time, diving for loose balls, sitting down on defense, taking a charge, sniffing out a steal and consistently stepping up in the clutch.

Call them glue guys because it's just such players that provide the cohesion required to optimize high grade talent. Showtime aka the Lakers had Kurt Rambis, the Pistons had Dennis Rodman on back-to-back title teams (the Chicago Bulls had him for their second three-peat), the Spurs' have Bruce Bowen. The Fab Four had George Harrison but the Five Fab didn't and maybe that's why they never won a national title at Michigan.

The thing that truly distinguishes a glue guy on the hardwood isn't the points he scores, as he is often the lowest scoring starter, but rather the points he prevents and the possessions he preserves. Usually solid in most elements of the game, the GG has a specialty or two that makes him indispensable to his team's success.

And success is a common denominator among good glue guys. They have a knack for showing up on championship quality teams, and thus must be regarded as a vital component of a winning formula.

Over the years the Volunteers have had their fair share of glue guys — Steve Ray, Willie Burton and Dane Bradshaw quickly come to mind as being worthy of that title. Watching the Vols early struggles have prompted many to bemoan the absence of a player like Bradshaw, who seemed to sense where to be on the court to make the biggest difference. It was his combination of skills, unselfish play and timing that enabled him to play at a listed 6-foot-3 forward in a league dominated by 6-foot-9 front line players.

Finding the next Great Dane won't be easy since it largely depends on a team's need and how a glue guy like a Bradshaw fits into the team picture. With that qualifier in place, it's appropriate to point out that 2010 UT commitment Aaron Craft of Findlay, Ohio, shares many traits in common with Bradshaw, who saw his star rise under Bruce Pearl.

Like Bradshaw was at Memphis Whitehaven, Craft is a 6-foot-2 point combo guard, who enjoyed great success at both the high school and AAU levels. Both are good athletes, great students, proven leaders and hard-nosed competitors. Craft also plays quarterback for Liberty-Benton.

Consider these numbers. A starting point guard for his high school team since he was a freshman, Craft has led the Eagles to a 52-3 record in two plus seasons. As a freshman he took on the lead guard role and led Liberty-Benton to the state finals and a 26-1 record with the lone loss coming against Cincinnati power North College Hill. He made 6 of 6 free throws down the stretch in the semifinal to lift the Eagles to the title tilt. As a sophomore Liberty-Benton posted a 21-1 mark before being upset in the second round of the regional tournament. Liberty-Benton started off 5-1 in his ongoing junior campaign.

Craft is also floor general of the first order for his AAU squad, All-Ohio Red, which has gone 138-3 since Craft became a starter. Last year his three-point goal iced the AAU 16-and-under-national championship for All-Ohio Red in Orlando, Fla. Combine his AAU success with his high school wins and the record comes to a grand total of 190-6. ,p> "I think my strength right now is that I come out and know I have to play hard on defense every game," Craft explained. "That's the one thing you can control when you go out there playing. You're going to miss shots, you can't really control that. You can focus and concentrate on shooting the ball, but sometimes the ball is just not going to fall, but on defense it's all on you. That's the thing I always know that I can go out there and play as hard as I can on defense and then make smart decisions with the ball and not turn it over. I understand the game. My basketball IQ continues to get better in different situations. I'm real close with my teammates. I know what everybody can do. That helps knowing what their strengths and weaknesses are because I can get them the ball in position to score as well."

A starter since his freshman season, Craft has the complete confidence of Liberty-Benton head basketball coach Steve Williman.

"He's like a coach on the floor," said Williman. "He has this great basketball savvy. He understands the game. Probably the biggest compliment you can give him is that he makes other players on the team better because of his presence on the floor. He's a very unselfish player. He's very good in the open court. He can create plays for himself and his teammates and he's also very good at finishing plays. He's one of those type of players who's good at breaking down a defense, creating a shot for himself or a teammate.

"I think he's the type of player that's very unselfish. He's just as happy to get an assist as he is to score himself. He loves to run the floor and I know Tennessee is an up tempo type of team. He's good at running the floor and finding the open man. And he's also a very good defender."

Craft is a better shooter than Bradshaw and probably a superior athlete. Add it up and Craft has the potential to be a super glue guy.

Editor's Note: Read an in-depth feature on Aaron Craft in the current issue of Rocky Top News magazine.

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