Legendary college basketball broadcaster Verne Lundquist said something about Ohio State guard Aaron Craft that widened my eyes.
To paraphrase, Lundquist respects Craft more than any other player he’s watched during his long, storied career behind the microphone.
“Really?” said Bill Raftery, who’s shared press row for many a game with Lundquist.
My reaction exactly.
It’s such high praise coming from the man whose voice is best associated with Christian Laettner’s heroic shot against Kentucky in 1992, a man who’s been a tournament mainstay behind the microphone for more than three decades.
What did Aaron Craft do to draw such distinctive praise? Was he even on my Wooden Award ballot?
Let’s see: He does rank among the top 10 nationally in steals per game (2.5). He’s a pretty good field-goal shooter (47.3 percent). Scoring-wise? He’s no Doug McDermott. Craft didn’t even average 10 points per game this season.
Here’s what I’ve seen out of Craft: He’s made Ohio State go in recent years. He’s packed with skill and emotion. His statistics don’t reflect his ability to play at the next level.
Maybe that’s what Lundquist sees in Craft more than anything else.
I do know that for just a few seconds, Craft was on a long list of NCAA Tournament first-round heroes with a go-ahead drive to the basket. Then, Dayton knocked him off that list with a running jumper on the other end. (Craft tried another heroic attempt, but his well-contested shot just before the buzzer wouldn’t go.)
Heroics can best symbolize a man’s playing career, and a man’s overall play is the very thing that makes a symbol mean much more. Think about Laettner’s shot, and it’s much greater than Tate George’s three-pointer two years earlier.
If Craft had been the hero, the role would have perfectly fit him, just because of his leadership and grittiness.
Put McDermott in that situation, and his clutch play would be much more iconic.
As the nation’s leading scorer, the Creighton senior’s reprise of Larry Bird’s 1977 Sports Illustrated cover with two cheerleaders is completely warranted. So is my vote for him as the Wooden Award winner, the most important sports ballot I’ve ever filled out in 15 years of journalism.
Duke’s Jabari Parker can take over a game whenever he wants. He’s ready for the pros. He was my No. 2 choice.
Third through 10th in my book: Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier, Louisville’s Russ Smith, Cinicnnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, Arizona’s Nick Johnson, Syracuse’s C.J. Fair, Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins.
Missing from the ballot? Craft. I’m pretty sure Lundquist doesn’t appreciate that.
It’s obvious a ballot for a prestigious national award doesn’t have to change the mind of one of college basketball’s greatest voices. But the ones I voted for who are still alive in the tournament have a chance to change Lundquist’s mind, game by game.
Then, I’ll look really smart.
I.C. Murrell is the sports editor of The Commercial. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.