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January 23, 2013

Craft etches his name in Ohio State record book

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Pickpocketing Iowa's Aaron White with 14:25 remaining in the first half of last night's win over the Hawkeyes, Ohio State's Aaron Craft etched his name in the Buckeyes' history books, becoming the school's all-time career steals leader, passing Jay Burson's mark of 204.

But rather than enjoying his monumental milestone and 205th career theft, the junior guard opted to play the "what if?" game.

"I can't even imagine what the number would be if Mike would've stayed," Craft said, referring to former Ohio State point guard Mike Conley Jr., who recorded 87 steals in his freshman season, before leaving school to become the No. 4 pick of the 2007 NBA Draft. "Luckily, he didn't, and it worked out for him. It's working out for me as well."

While Craft is right, that at a pace of 348 steals for four seasons of play, Conley would certainly still be the Buckeyes' all-time steals leader, he's also selling himself short. In fact, it was Craft who broke the current Memphis Grizzlies guard's single-season steals record a season ago with 98 takeaways. With 73 steals already to his credit this season and 12 regular season games remaining, there stands good reason to believe that he'll challenge that record again this year.

And oh yeah, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year is only just past the midway point of his junior season.

In two and a half seasons of play, Craft has established himself as one of college basketball's elite defenders. Compliments from opposing coaches in postgame press conferences have become a staple of Ohio State games, where teams have been forced to deal with the pesky 6-foot-2, 190-pound point guard.

"He's like having two guys on you, really," Northern Kentucky coach Dave Bezold said earlier this season. "Whoever he was guarding, we thought about sticking him on the other end of the floor, or stick him in the corner, so (Craft) couldn't find a way to disrupt our offense too much. (But) he did."

Last season, it was Michigan State's Tom Izzo who called Craft the "best on-ball defender" that he's ever seen, and just like week, Michigan's John Beilein heaped similar praise on the Findlay, Ohio native after he held National Player of the Year candidate Trey Burke to a 4-of-13 shooting performance.

"Craft is as good as there is and as I've ever seen," Beilein said. "He's tremendous."

According to Craft's own coach, Ohio State's Thad Matta, what separates the 2012 Academic All-American is his effort. Matta said that he considers the Liberty Benton product to be amongst the elite defenders he's coached in his 13 years as a college head coach, along with former Buckeye David Lighty and Xavier forward David West.

"What makes him a tremendous defender is a desire to be a great defender," Matta said. "He wants to be a defensive stopper. He wants to be a pest to the opposing team. He wants to create chaos."

Craft, for his part, isn't putting too much stock in his latest accomplishment. Still being counted on to be a leader on a relatively young team searching for its fourth-consecutive conference championship, the former three-star prospect would rather focus on the present than the legacy he's building for himself.

"It doesn't mean a ton in the middle of a season. We have much more important things to worry about, especially with this team," Craft said. "Maybe towards the end of the year we can kind of reflect back, but right now we have much more important things to talk about and worry about."



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