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Craft makes most of opportunity

07/09/2014, 12:22am EDT
By DAVID BRIGGS BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Guard hopes to latch on to squad as third option

Craft makes most of opportunity

Aaron Craft from Ohio State participates in the 2014 NBA basketball Draft Combine.

They say he can’t, louder now than ever.

When Aaron Craft was not picked in last month’s NBA draft, it validated the conventional take on the former Ohio State star.

“Great college career, wonderful human being, but OK, end of story,“ wrote Sports Illustrated, paraphrasing an amalgam of six NBA scouts. ”He's not an NBA player."

To which Aaron Craft shrugs.

“You’ll just have to sit back and watch,” Craft said by phone from Orlando, where he is playing on Philadelphia’s entry in the NBA summer league.

If rivals thought Craft was stubborn in college, they have seen little yet.

His attempt to pry open minds has spared no effort in the first days of a three-week tryout with the 76ers and Golden State Warriors.

Knowing his in-your-face defense must be so game-changing as to offset concerns about his limited offense, the Findlay native has so far exasperated opponents — not to mention the guy he nearly leveled diving over the scorer’s table to save a loose ball.

Craft had two steals in his opening minutes of the Sixers’ summer-league opener against the Magic on Saturday, alternately flustering Victor Oladipo — a former adversary at Indiana who was picked second overall in last year’s draft — and rookie first-round selection Elfrid Payton. Through two games, the Buckeyes’ all-time steals leader has three of them in just under 18 minutes.

“You just try to go in and make any splash you can, make an impact on the game,” Craft said. “For me, thus far it's been playing on the defensive end. Picking up full court is very challenging, but if you're not playing as many minutes or if you know you're getting a break, you do have that little extra burst, that extra energy. It can get frustrating [for opponents], especially with the shorter shot clock, so I'm trying to disrupt as much as possible.”

Craft will play two more games with the Sixers’ roster of rookies and first- and second-year players — including cornerstone center Nerlens Noel — then decamp to join the Warrior in the Las Vegas summer league.

Whether his one elite dimension alone leads to a role in the NBA — or forces him to pursue boundless opportunities overseas — remains the outsized question. Craft, who spent the past months rebuilding his rickety shot with shooting guru Keith Veney, realizes he must pose more of a scoring threat. In two games with the Sixers, he has three points on 1-of-3 shooting, and is 1-for-4 from the foul line. He has two assists and three turnovers.

He believes the offense will come.

“Right now, I’m just trying to show guys that I’m going to be one of the tougher competitors out there,“ he said. ”I'm going to do whatever they're going to ask. I need to show that I can run a team, that I can have command out on the floor, that I can be the guy they need.“

Joe Kotoch, a Cleveland-based former NBA agent who analyzes the draft for ProBasketballDraft.com, is among the scouting dissidents who believes Craft can be the guy a team needs.

”Some teams’ GMs, it’s more about the analytics,“ he said previously. ”Can the player do something that's underrated? When you're looking at Craft, you’re not getting a guy who's going to come in and wow you athletically.

“But you're going to get a guy who does something underrated and that's play extremely intense, aggressive on-the-ball defense.

"What backup point guard or third-string point guard wouldn't be asked to do something like that? ... When you look at how important intangibles are to rounding out a roster, there's a place in the NBA for Aaron Craft."

Maybe even in Philadelphia, where he could slide in as the third point guard behind Michael Carter-Williams and summer-league teammate Casper Ware. Pierre Jackson, another player in contention to back up Carter-Williams, could be out for the season after injuring his right Achilles tendon on Saturday.

If there was a silver lining to going undrafted, it is that Craft got to choose where he played. Craft, who next hopes to sign a training-camp contract with an interested franchise, chose to join Philadelphia and Golden State in part because of their potential roster openings.

“Obviously you get our hopes up with the draft,” he said. “But I was very realistic going into it and I wasn't too utterly surprised when it didn't happen. I have the opportunity to play with two great organizations that have showed interest. Now, I have to go out and enjoy it and make the most of it.”

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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