Never say never. There’s Aaron Craft, Buckeye strong, tossing Jim Harbaugh a dime.
“[It’s] always hard to put rivalries — they aren’t old — aside,” the former Ohio State basketball great told Land of 10 recently when asked about the venerated Michigan football coach.
“But in all honesty, I think having Coach Harbaugh in the Big Ten was great for the league. It certainly created a great buzz around the country for the league and that is always good.”
Like Harbaugh, Craft has been repping the Big Ten in Italy this spring, wrapping up a strong 2016-17 season with Aquila Basket Trento of Serie A, the country’s top professional basketball circuit.
The 26-year-old ex-Buckeyes point guard last summer signed a deal to play in Trento, situated in the country’s northern, mountainous region.
“Obviously, he has done a great job with the team and his players really enjoy playing for him,” Craft, the NBA D-League Defensive Player of the Year in 2015, said of Harbaugh, who shepherded the Wolverines football team through Rome last month.
“Yeah, he does some quirky things, but players like playing for a coach that is real and unashamed to be himself. I would take [Ohio State] coach [Urban] Meyer, but coach Harbaugh is a solid backup.”
Craft is averaging 10 points, 4.7 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals per game this season in Trento, where the regular season wraps up in two weeks. He’s planning on a return to the United States this summer and will play in The Basketball Tournament for the Scarlet and Gray, on a team comprised primarily of Ohio State hoops alumni.
He was kind enough to tackle a few questions via email:
What was your reaction when you first heard Michigan was bringing its entire football team to Italy for the week?
“My first reaction was, ‘Really?! Are they really here?’ But after I saw it was real, I thought it was pretty cool. That is a life experience many, many people have on their bucket list, and to be able to share that with your team family is pretty incredible. Not to mention someone else [was] probably doing most of the research, telling you how to get in to certain sites, where to go — and all that would be nice!”
Was this a good move/genius move/dumb move for Michigan? Why or why not?
“I think any time you can get your guys thinking outside of themselves and their own little world, it is a good thing. Obviously, you can accomplish this staying a little closer to home, but coming to another part of the world is a great way to get the point across and have it stick in their minds. Not to mention, give guys that never would have done something like this the memory of a lifetime.”
‘Rome is like a living history book with stories upon stories to learn and discuss.’
— Former Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft
In all seriousness, what kind of things could any student-athlete get out of a trip such as the one the Wolverines just took?
“I think something like this could go both ways. A student-athlete could go with a closed mind, take in the sights, and go back home without much thought. Or he/she could use it as an opportunity to open their minds. Rome is like a living history book with stories upon stories to learn and discuss. So, if nothing else, it is an opportunity to probe your teammates, have deeper discussions, and really get to know them, understand their world view better.
“You can also gain a greater sense of gratitude for the opportunities they do have back at school. Getting out, talking to others, and away from your comfort zone helps you really appreciate the many blessings you already have.”
Would you like to see Ohio State try something similar? If so, where would you like to see the Bucks train for a week?
“I think it definitely could be a great experience for any program to do this. It is very similar to the foreign trips college basketball teams are allowed to take once every four years. There are a lot of great cities in Europe. I don’t think you could go wrong choosing any of them!”
What have you been up to this season? How have you enjoyed Italy? How does it compare with the D-League, the NBA, etc., back home?
“Overall, this season has gone pretty well. We struggled the first half of the year, but really picked it up the second half and now have put ourselves in a position to make a playoff run.
“Italy has been a fun place for Amber [my wife] and I to live and explore, and the league is pretty strong.
“As far as gameplay, it is more similar to the college style of play with packed paints and limited space, especially as compared to the D-League/NBA game. However, with the 24-second shot clock, games are capable of getting fast-paced at times.”