Ohio State's Aaron Craft, Notre Dame's Garrick Sherman paths cross again
Bloody noses and fat lips are occasional occupational hazards for someone who has made his college basketball living being a bother.
Ohio State senior guard Aaron Craft knows that it comes with the territory of doing something few in the country do at such a consistently high level — defend anyone and everyone — but he didn’t expect to be treated so tough so early in his career by a friend.
During his freshman season, Craft was assigned to pester Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas. Each time he chased Lucas around a Spartan screen, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Craft felt like he had skirted a brick wall. He knew that when it happened the first time, it was going to leave a serious mark somewhere on his body.
By the third or fourth or fifth time, Craft stopped caring and just did it.
The culprit of those picks was fellow Ohio native and current Notre Dame fifth-year power forward Garrick Sherman.
“He set some of the greatest ball screens that I ever had to go against, which was very unfortunate,” said Craft, a three-time Big Ten all-defensive team selection and 2012 conference defensive player of the year. “He just kept coming, kept coming, kept coming. I was like, ‘All right. OK.’
“That was the toughest thing to do, deal with those ball screens he set.”
Reminded earlier this week of his first college basketball contest against Craft – and of those ball screens – the 6-11, 255-pound Sherman reacted with a wide, toothy smile.
“I laid a few on him that game,” he said. “That was my role at Michigan State. I was strictly a screener so I had to do my job.”
The college careers of the Ohio natives Craft (Findlay) and Sherman (Kenton) cross again Saturday when Notre Dame (8-3) meets No. 3 Ohio State (11-0) in the final of the 2013 BlackRock Gotham Classic at Madison Square Garden (7:30 p.m., ESPN2).
The Craft-Sherman relationship dates back to when both were schoolboy stars. Sherman was a year older than Craft, who also was a standout quarterback on the Liberty Benton High School team. The two never played against one another – Sherman’s high school (Kenton) was a class higher – but shared common opponents.
Each time Craft watched tape of a game that featured Kenton, he couldn’t help but notice the big kid in the middle who often had his double-double way for points and rebounds.
“To sit and watch some film, on him, the hype was definitely warranted,” Craft said.
Watching film today of Sherman shows something that Craft didn’t always see during the big man’s ball-screen days at Michigan State.
“He’s definitely become more of an offensive threat,” Craft said. “He feels more comfortable in the post to do some things. You can’t not account for him now.”
Though their hometowns are separated by only 27 miles, Craft and Sherman went their separate AAU ways. Craft helped All-Ohio Red win three national championships while Sherman played for a Spiece team out of Fort Wayne that featured future Ohio State standout DeShaun Thomas.
“It would have been fun to play together, but we never got the chance,” Sherman said.
Craft wasn’t surprised to learn that Sherman seemingly goes nowhere these days with his trademark green and yellow John Deere baseball hat.
“He’s a little more country than I am,” Craft said.
They stay in touch with the occasional phone call and text message. While Sherman needed a transfer from Michigan State to jump-start his college career – he’s currently averaging career highs for points (14.3) rebounds (7.5) and minutes (25.3) — Craft has developed into one of the game’s best all-around guards. He often does everything but score points.
Craft already is the school record-holder for assists (583) and steals (276). He will be the only player in Ohio State history to finish his career with at least 1,000 points, 500 assists and 200 steals. He has more career thefts than turnovers (258).
On the early-season watch list for the Naismith and Wooden awards, he’s a big reason why many expect the Buckeyes to challenge for a Big Ten title and make another deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Craft is a player so many college basketball followers love to loathe. Notre Dame fans likely will not like watching Craft work Saturday. He’ll start guarding Irish senior guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant the minute the Notre Dame team bus pulls up the Garden entrance. He’ll give Irish freshman Demetrius Jackson a whole new idea of what it’s like to defend at this level.
He won’t give up or give in until the game’s final horn.
“He’s just so tough,” Sherman said. “It’s not like his game is flashy or pretty. The way he plays defense on the ball, it’s just annoying.
“He just gets things done.”
For all Craft has done during his previous three seasons, he believes he’s a better player entering the twilight of his college career. He knows the end is coming — a whole lot faster than he wants to admit — and he’s ready to go out with his best season. Not because he has to, but because he’s spent the previous three winters learning what it’s like to be good. Really good.
Having to figure out Notre Dame’s three-guard offense on his first-ever trip to New York is an OK challenge for him.
“You can’t teach experience,” he said. “I’ve been able to play in a lot of big games, a lot of close games. I haven’t won them all, but they’ve all been learning experiences.
“I feel pretty comfortable on the floor and at ease regardless of what’s going on.”