Ohio State's Aaron Craft puts up a shot against Duke's Mason Plumlee last month in Durham, N.C. The loss to the Blue Devils has been the only blemish so far for the Buckeyes.
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COLUMBUS — The easy storyline is the kid sister trying to live up to her big brother.
Cait Craft knew this in June when she arrived at Ohio State, where her brother, Aaron, is a junior star for the men’s basketball team. Comparisons of the two guards who wielded game and smarts in equal measure — both had 4.0 grade-point averages at Liberty-Benton High School — were sure to follow.
"I told her that is a legitimate concern," said their father, John Craft. "You would be foolish if you didn't think after the Final Four last season and some of the things Aaron had accomplished grade-wise as an academic All-American that people would do that."
In truth, though, the sibling rivalry ended in their high school gymnasium at Liberty-Benton in Findlay, where brother and sister once seemed to spend every free day together.
Before Aaron and Cait became the first family of Ohio State basketball, they were threatening family dinner with summer hoops sessions that began in the morning. They often arrived with friends, but left alone. There was always one more shooting game, one more game of "P-I-G," one more game of one-on-one.
"I won only one time," Cait said, smiling. "I normally don't tell people this part, but he was going by half points and one point, and I was going by twos and threes."
Today, the Findlay natives beam in discussing the others’ accomplishments.
Aaron is a 6-foot-2, third-year starting point guard for the seventh-ranked Buckeyes (8-1) and the reigning Big Ten defensive player of the year. He once prodded OSU coaches to rearrange a practice around one of Cait’s high school games and lists watching his sister win the Division III state championship in 2010 among his "biggest thrill in sports," according to an official team biography.
Ohio State’s Cait Craft, right, is still finding her place after missing three games earlier this season with a concussion.
Eamon Queeney/ The Columbus Dispatch Enlarge
Cait, meanwhile, is a 5-8 freshman reserve shooting guard for the No. 20 OSU women’s team. The reigning Division III Ohio player of the year, she credits her big brother for helping mine her potential — even in the moments in the gym when all she wanted to say was, "Quit bugging me."
While comparisons between the two are inherently misguided, one similarity is real: The single-minded drive they shared — and bonded over — growing up.
"I definitely credit a lot of my success and where I’m at to Aaron," Cait said. "We developed a very special bond in the gym together when we were younger, and all through high school I watched him, and I watched the things that he accomplished. Then coming to play here, just the way he handles himself. He's the most humble person I've ever met, even though sometimes he has a reason not to be."
So, naturally, the big brother responds with this:
"All the credit goes to her," Aaron said.
Then, he relents. Maybe he and his brother, Brandon, who is three years older, helped a little.
"I think we have a little bit to do with the toughness that she has," Aaron said. "Growing up, we couldn't let her be that typical girl. ... She’s always been willing to stick her nose into places that she wasn't necessarily supposed to be."
Among those places was the treehouse Aaron built at his grandparents’ house in the third grade. He and his best friend Micah Hyde, with whom he grew up with in Fostoria before the Crafts moved to Findlay, spent a week building what at the time seemed like the coolest thing ever. They began with a plate nailed between two limbs of a pine tree about 15 feet high, then added everything from walls to a toilet seat attached to a pipe that ran down the length of the tree.
Everything but a "No Girls Allowed" sign. Aaron and Micah, now a senior defensive back at Iowa, gave Cait free reign.
"I remember Cait being so proud of the fact that the boys let her in their treehouse," said John Craft, a teacher at Fostoria High. "She looked at herself as one of them. ... That acceptance really bred a lot of self-esteem and was a shot in her arm."
Wherever Aaron and Micah roamed, Cait was not far behind. The same way the two boys once passed up shots to feed the only girl on their co-ed soccer team who had not scored — "That girl finally scored," John Craft said, "and I’ll tell you what, those guys couldn't have been happier" — Aaron took pride in helping Cait succeed.
Their bond tightened as both grew serious about basketball. By the time Aaron was in high school and Cait in middle school, the gym was a veritable second home — and a primary residence on free summer afternoon or snow days.
Cait came to cherish these times, falling into a two-week "funk" when Aaron left for college in 2010.
"I had no idea what to do," she said. "I started going to the gym by myself, which was very awkward."
But the early days were rarely free of tension. Aaron was the kind of high school freshman who was already doing defensive slide drills on his own and had a perfectionist streak.
"He was always telling me to do this, telling me to do that, and some days I’d be in the gym and I’d absolutely hate Aaron," Cait said, laughing.
"I would never want to talk to him. I would want him to leave me alone. But it was all for my best interest."
At Liberty-Benton and on the AAU circuit, both developed into two of the top players in the state.
Aaron — who was also an all-state quarterback, class valedictorian, and president of the National Honor Society — committed to Tennessee before changing his pledge to the Buckeyes.
Cait — who knocked down 92 3-pointers as a sophomore in Liberty-Benton’s state championship season and surpassed 1,000 career points as a junior — had committed to Kent State before a scholarship opened at OSU.
Now, reunited in Columbus, they occupy vastly different planes.
Aaron, a pre-med major with a 3.89 GPA, became an instant crowd favorite for his relentless play and just might be the second-most recognizable athlete on campus behind OSU quarterback Braxton Miller. He is averaging 9.6 points and 4.4 assists this season.
Cait is still finding her place after missing three games this season with a concussion, though she has impressed in limited time.
Yet their sibling hoops rivalry has long passed. For now, Aaron and Cait are just glad to share the college experience with one of their biggest fans.
"It definitely means a lot to me that I’m down here I get to live out my dreams," Cait said. "But it's great that it’s close enough that I can enjoy it with my family."
Including the brother who lives just across the street.
Contact David Briggs at: email@example.com, 419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.
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