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Commentary: The curious, polarizing case of Ohio State men’s basketball’s Aaron Craft

Cody Cousino / Multimedia editor

Did Aaron Craft really wave him off?

It’s been three days and I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around the junior guard’s last-second heroics to drop Iowa State and send the Ohio State basketball team to the Sweet 16.
In the process he waved off Deshaun Thomas, the best scorer in the nation’s best conference and a 35 percent 3-point shooter, as he cut to the top of the arc.
He also ignored the waving arms of Lenzelle Smith Jr., who was unguarded in the opposite corner and shoots 38 percent from the 3-point line.
Craft, a 30 percent 3-point shooter who missed two crucial free throws just moments earlier, did all of this to take a contested 3-pointer with a bigger, slower defender on him.
But it went in. Of course it went in.
Buckeye Nation and the thousands who picked the Buckeyes to advance in their bracket pools rejoiced.
But there were also many folks in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Champaign, Ill., and Bloomington, Ind., and other various cities across the country who rolled their eyes.
“Why did Aaron Craft have to make it?” they thought. “I hate Aaron Craft.”
That’s been the narrative when it comes to Craft for a while now. You either love him or you hate him.
As Arizona coach Sean Miller, who will face Craft and the Buckeyes in the Sweet 16 Thursday, said Monday, Craft “has that Tim Tebow quality.”
“Tebow, at Florida, it wasn’t just his performance on the field, but who he was as a person, the leadership that he provided, the competitive spirit he embodied. It seemed to spread through Florida’s football team, and Aaron Craft does the same thing for Ohio State basketball.”
Now, let’s make one thing clear here. Tebow, the current New York Jets quarterback and former Florida Gator, is one of the best college football players of his generation (though not so much in the NFL). I’m not convinced Craft is one of the best 20 players in college basketball this year.
But what Craft and Tebow do have in common are their spotless images and their effect on observers of the sport. There’s a large portion of America that loves guys that work too hard, achieve more than they probably should and above all, win. There’s also a large portion of America that thinks Craft and Tebow are arrogant.
Craft’s popularity, though, is skyrocketing. He’s been a popular figure in Columbus since his freshman year, but with the aid of March Madness’ spotlight, he’s becoming a national name, too.
It’s Craft who’s the face of the OSU basketball program, not Thomas, the potent scorer, or Thad Matta, the coach who’s led the Buckeyes to the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive year.
Thanks in large part to his clutch shot Sunday, Craft’s name was buzzing on the Internet. His name was trending on Twitter, and he was one of the seven search items Google identified as trending on Sunday in the United States.
What those who punched his name into a search engine probably found was the information about his near-perfect GPA, his medical school aspirations and maybe even the “Cosmopolitan Magazine” article that named him one of the “hottest” guys of the NCAA Tournament.
Craft, like Tebow, has worked his way into national relevance. More and more people know who he is for more reasons than just basketball.
The fact is Craft is different than everybody else. The way he plays the game is different, the way he reacts to big plays is different (he hardly showed emotion after he hit his big shot Sunday), and frankly, the way he looks (rosy cheeks included) is different.
Because he’s different and because he’s relevant, we feel the need to classify him. Some love him. Some hate him.
I’m sure Iowa State’s classification of Craft is closer to the latter. If that’s the case with Arizona after the game Thursday, something tells me Craft won’t be too upset.

 

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