COLUMBUS — Aaron Craft made a final pitch for his future on Monday in Boston.
It was not at Harvard Medical School.
No, the former Ohio State basketball star spent the last month visiting one NBA team after another, stubbornly hoping to prove that his much-debated game translates to the highest level. In the last week alone, Craft has worked out for the Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors, Memphis Grizzlies, and Boston Celtics. His hoop dreams are bigger than ever, even if teams feel obligated to ask.
In a twist on the usual priorities, organizations want to be sure his school does not interfere with sport. Multiple teams have asked Craft — who scored 32 on the ACT as a sophomore at Liberty-Benton, was valedictorian of his class, and aced all but a freshman-year chemistry class as a pre-med major at OSU — if he would leave behind basketball for medical school should he go unselected in Thursday’s NBA draft.
The answer is a resounding no.
“He is flattered by it, but a little annoyed at people who keep bringing this medical school thing up,” his agent, Lance Young of Excel Sports Management, said in a phone interview. “Even if he doesn't make it in the NBA, he wants to play basketball for a long time. As long as he can.”
So what’s next for Craft?
Young gave his client a 50-50 shot of being among the 60 players drafted while most analysts project Craft — like former OSU teammate LaQuinton Ross — as a fringe second-round candidate. If his name is not called, he would sign a nominal free-agent contract and play for his team’s entry in the NBA summer league.
He hopes to remain in the United States this year — either in the NBA or NBA Developmental League — though Young said Craft would entertain playing in Europe as a fallback plan if the situation was right.
“Coming into the whole process, I was thinking it was a longshot that he got drafted,” Young said. “From what I've heard from teams, he's helped himself. The question mark is what everyone knows, his jump shot. Can he make shots? And No. 2, can his defense and all the intangibles that he brings to the court in a college game translate into the pro game?”
The first question remains the biggest. While Craft willed himself into a star at OSU despite a an unsteady jumper — he shot 30.2 percent from beyond the arc as a senior — he will need to force teams to guard him in the NBA. Young paired him with Maryland-based shooting guru Keith Veney, a former Marshall standout who once made an NCAA-record 15 3-pointers in a game. Already, Craft has eliminated his odd hitch, which came because his right elbow jutted out in what Veney called an “elongated” shot.
“We’ve tried to make it a shorter, more compact stroke,” said Veney, whose roster of clients has included Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki. “The stuff that he didn't need in his shot, we cut it out. It’s like trimming the fat.”
Craft, who has planted roots at gyms nationwide over the last month, said he is “happy with the progress.”
“It’s amazing how much work and time you can put in when you’re out of school and you have more time on your hands,” Craft told reporters after a workout for the Jazz. “Obviously I’m not where I need to be, but I feel really comfortable with the improvements.”
And few doubt they will continue. Despite their concerns, some teams say Craft strikes them as the kind of guy who will be successful at anything, be it as a doctor or, yes, an NBA point guard.
“Aaron’s excelled at pretty much everything his whole life,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough told reporters. “On the court or off the court, he’s a competitor. That’s a good way to put it. He’s a winner. His defense stands out. His ability to run a team and get guys in better spots stands out. He’s in terrific shape. He tied our high in the conditioning drill in the end of our workout here, and he could have kept going for another three minutes if he wanted to.
“We place a value on winning. You look throughout his career, he was also a high school quarterback. He won a lot there as well. It’s what he’s done his whole life. He just wins.”