If it’s possible to lose half your fame in a couple of months, then it’s happened to Aaron Craft. The transition from March Madness to summer league is funny that way. In the spring, Craft is the archetype of college ball grit, a well-publicized symbol of what the NCAA experience means to many of its fans. Come summer, Craft is no longer attached to any of that. He’s now just a defensive-minded, undrafted point guard on the Golden State Warriors’ summer-league team.
Steve Kerr has gushed over the former Ohio State point guard’s defensive effort and it’s apparent in every minute of action in Las Vegas. Craft really does hit the floor more often than a jackhammer. Right now his play looks like the epitome of summer-league striving, but summer-league striving doesn’t sell like college ball scrappiness.
There’s only so much crossover between college and pro basketball fans, so Craft’s massive renown is lost on many NBA followers. To them, being big at Ohio State might as well be like being big in Japan. That also means Craft attracts fewer haters in this phase of his life. Though a good student and by many accounts a good teammate, there was something about the way scrappy Craft was praised by announcers that attracted a fair amount of backlash.
That hate dies in the Vegas heat. Something else also happens out here, for Craft on a personal (not public) level. Like so many of us who graduate from college, he must transition from having a safety net to making his way in a world that can be confusingly anonymous.
What is this transition like for you?
It’s just different, everything’s a little different, from what you do in the hotels with the team, to shootarounds to everything. It’s sort of an overwhelming experience.
How’s the hotel stuff different?
You don’t do much with the team, maybe just because it’s summer league. You have a lot more free time than you do when you’re traveling in college. Meals are on your own, so you gotta find your own meals, which is different. They always gave you team meals, you always ate together, so you’re kind of on your own, you gotta figure things out.
So it’s like graduating college for a lot of people, where there’s less structure and you have to grow up fast?
Yeah, you gotta figure it out. I learned early on that there’s a ton of free time, so you gotta figure out how to maximize, not just waste it. Am I perfect at it? No. But I find some things I enjoy doing and that’s fine.
How do you fill that free time?
You have to actually pursue relationships now, so calling people on the phone, seeing how they’re doing. I’ve read a lot recently.
What are you reading?
I read the Bible a lot, and this book “Recovery and Redemption” by Matt Chandler, got into that, finished a book by John Piper during the pre-draft process. Just trying to fill the time.
Do you feel like there’s less pressure here right now than there was when you were at Ohio State?
There, it’s right at you, you can feel it. Here there’s some pressure because you have no idea where you’re going to be a month from now.
I don’t know much about the college ball scene, but I kept reading and hearing you were a polarizing player. Did you have any thoughts on why that happened?
I don’t know. Either you liked me or you didn’t like me at all?
But why would someone not like you? You seem like a nice guy.
I am a nice guy. There was a lot of stuff, a lot of ideas thrown out there, but for me, if anything it could have taken some pressure off my teammates. I felt comfortable handling it and dealing with it.
What are the ideas that were thrown out about why?
I’m white. I’m short. Other people can do what I do. Things like that. It’s interesting.
Did that feel insulting to you? That people would reduce your talent like that?
No, not at all. It was always about what the coaching staff thought, what our team thought. There’s a lot of people out there thinking they know what they’re talking about and they have no idea. They’re not in practices, they’re not in film sessions, they don’t see the work we put in. I’m fine with it, you know. People want to fill time, and that’s fine with me. I’ve done pretty well to this point and hope to continue to do so.
Do you like the change in the amount of scrutiny or does it not affect you at all?
I tried not to notice it in college. It’s just a different kind of scrutiny now. People kind of dissect your game, tell you what you can’t do now.
Obviously defense was a calling card of yours. Is it different at this level.
There is more space on the floor now obviously with the three point line, there’s less help and gap, so it does change it, but I like the challenge. Picking guys up full court is a challenge in of itself, being in better shape than everyone else is just something I need to do.
How do you maintain the energy for that? What do you do off the court to be able to do that an not die?
It’s a big mental challenge. It’s a big toughness factor kind of thing. If I’m going to make it, I have to be better shape than pretty much any guy on the floor.