What’s in a summer?
For Aaron Craft, the undrafted rookie out of Ohio State who just recently signed a partially guaranteed one-year deal with the Warriors, a lot is riding on these dry summer months. For one, Craft has already impressed many, including first year head coach Steve Kerr, during Craft’s time playing for the Warriors’Summer League team in Las Vegas.
Craft won over Kerr with his high energy, defensive intensity and his determination to prove the doubters wrong. Going undrafted is humbling, and for a four-year graduate that included being named All-Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year twice and led his team to the Final Four just two years ago, it’s quite the switch up.
As numerous players every draft find out, the association is a different animal. It doesn’t matter what you did in college, you start fresh. As someone who went undrafted, the expectations are low, but Craft knows this is merely another obstacle in what has been a storied basketball career to this point.
The opportunity to flourish is there, it’s just a matter of if Craft can scrap his way towards another win. He’s done it plenty of times before.
When did the Warriors first contact you? How many teams contacted you before you finally signed on with the Warriors?
Well, things kind of snowballed pretty quickly actually after the draft. Obviously when you don’t hear your name there is a lot of different things that can happen. I just remember being on the phone with my agent a couple of times throughout the middle of the night, just saying ‘Hey, this has happened this has happened, get some rest we will talk about in the morning.’ Golden State and Philadelphia were the two teams that wanted me to come play Summer League. I was really glad, it worked out very well. I actually did not have any contact with either team. My agent had done all that work and he just kind of told me ‘here is your opportunity, be ready to go.” I think we made the most of it.
What does it mean to you that the Warriors showed interest? Unlike Philadelphia, they’re on the way up and will be contending immediately.
It felt great, especially with the buzz going around in the NBA and throughout the country with a team like Golden State. All you hear is positive things. To understand that you have an opportunity to go out and show yourself out to a team like that. It definitely meant a lot.
How was your Summer League experience? How was working under Steve Kerr?
Summer League was great. Especially having a first time coach, with coach Kerr was actually a blessing. He was actually out there, he was there with the coaching staff that will be there throughout the regular season. Being able to be on the floor with them, just learn from them. Just having a week with a great group of guys that we’re really feeling out too. That was great. We obviously had our ups and downs in Vegas but I really feel like the team enjoyed the time. You’re supposed to go and have fun while in Vegas.
Since you mentioned it, what kind of fun did get yourself into? You don’t have to mention certain things if you don’t have to…
[Laughs] It was good, there were a couple people out there that I knew. It was a good change up. It had been about two and half weeks since I had seen anybody I knew from college or anything like that. So a couple of my closest were out there, so it was good to catch up with them. As a team we bonded. There were a couple guys and we went out and ate dinner and even gambled a little bit together. It was just a overall great experience. Like you said there is a lot to get into there, but I think we did good job balancing it.
Did you get a chance to hangout with any current players on the Warriors?
I did very briefly. Draymond Green was out there.. Festus Ezeli was going to play but was a little injured. He was around the most. Andre Iguodala was out there the first day. I just got to talk to those guys for a little bit. Kind of hearing what type of transition they are going through.
Did they tell you anything noteworthy?
Nothing much, it was more kind of how Summer League was going. Obviously, Draymond and I have played against each other a few times in college. We jabbed back and forth about that. Just seeing him workout and kind of talking to him like normal.
What specifically did Coach Kerr and yourself talk about in regards to your role with the team?
He didn’t want me to be drastically different outside of what I have done in my four years of college. He knows how competitive I am. He likes the basketball IQ I have on the floor and then just running the team and obviously on the defensive end just trying to raise the energy level any way that I could. That is what he wanted in Summer League and that is what he expects coming into training camp here in the next few weeks. Those are things I want to continually hang my hat on well continually to get better.
It’s only 10 days, but during your time in Las Vegas did Coach Kerr talk with you about what specifically needed to improve?
There wasn’t too anything specific. Obviously, my shooting needs to continue to improve. My ball handling is a little different. Without a five second call that changes the way you can run an offense to get people where you need to get them to go. So to continue to tighten that down a little bit and understanding that you don’t have to break planes anymore you can be calm and get someone. There are little things that you have to learn to get to the next level.
Is there a current NBA player that you compare yourself to?
It’s tough. Everyone wants to put their own stamp on the game. We’ve looked at with continuing to improve offensively and shooting the ball. I think I can be a guy like Kirk Hinrich. He is a hard nose guy that is not afraid to stick his nose wherever it needs to go. He’s going to lead the team and bring intensity more every time he takes it. That is something that I want to improve.
Looking back at your time at Ohio State, what would you say was your biggest accomplishment?
Oh man, that’s tough. Obviously freshman year, we were pretty good then. Junior year we went throughout the year ranked pretty high and ranked #1 for a lot of the year. But it’s tough to have a bigger accomplishment that going to the Final Four my sophomore year. Just the way that team came together, obviously we came up short but it was a great run. We played great down the stretch and that’s what it’s all about.
How do you think staying all four years helped your game?
I think it helped a lot. You play at a high competitive level for four years, you’re going to get better as a player. You’re improving your basketball IQ and breaking down film. You know all the little things that young guys don’t get to do. If you’re in college you get to play against great players. You get to continue and develop under a great coaching staff like we had at Ohio State. You really learn more about the little things that go on. It was a great experience and I would never change it.
Do you feel draft experts and the mass media as a whole pay too much attention to size and measurements and less about what you just mentioned (IQ, maturation, etc)?
I think there’s definitely a balance. They obviously have done their job for a lot longer than I have, they know what they are talking about, but I hear what you’re saying. Obviously a lot of it is based off potential and things like that, but at the same time I think there definitely should be a little bit of weight put on people who proven themselves and have a little more experience. That is kind of the name of the game though. You can’t do much about it. You know there are a lot of guys that pan out and there are other guys don’t based on potential or whatever you might use. So you kind if just have to go with the flow.
How many times have you visited the Bay Area, if at all? What do you expect of the Bay Area lifestyle?
I haven’t been there. I was out there for the Ohio State vs. Cal football game this past fall, so that has been the closest I’ve been. I honestly don’t know much about it. I’m looking forward to getting out there. We will head out there September 1st and just go out there and kind of dive in. It’s going to be an exciting experience. It’s a great opportunity and so I am truly determined to make the most out of it.
The Warriors pride themselves on their fans and more specifically, Oracle Arena. How do you think that experience will be when you first step foot on that floor?
Oh yeah. I think it’s a great transition going from a college atmosphere and gym where you have fans like that to a place that seems very similar in the NBA or a place that is closes you are going to get. So, I am definitely excited and hopefully a opportunity comes and arises.
Much like yourself, Stephen Curry made his name in the NCAA tournament and finished with a storied college career. How much is playing and with Curry going to help your game?
Yeah, I am definitely looking forward to connecting and being able to learn from him. Like you said he had a great college career and figured it out at the next level. That is definitely a big part of the battle, learning how to be a pro and obviously he has been able to do that. You know his game speaks for himself. Just being able to learn and be around a guy like that can definitely only help and I am definitely looking forward to that and the challenge of being able to guard him hopefully on a daily basis. Hopefully I can help him out too, I am definitely looking forward to that.
How much were you paying attention to what the Warriors were doing this off-season, most specifically in regards to Kevin Love? How about the entire association?
Yeah, this summer has been absolutely crazy. You know as a causal fan you can keep notice of the big names and where they are going and things like that, but for me this summer was all about what is the next challenge ahead of us. It started with the combine and you go from there to working out with teams and right into Summer League. So, for me is was always one thing after the next and you didn’t really have a ton of time to get super in depth in much of that. I just knew I needed to take advantage of what was in front of me and all that stuff would pan out for itself.
Now, the last and probably the most difficult question of this entire interview. Aaron, will you bring your ice cream eating ways to the Golden State?
I am hoping you guys have some great ice cream places.
Oh, we do.
I don’t plan on dropping that anytime soon
You might have to drive over the bridge to San Francisco but there are definitely ice cream places for you over here. I don’t want you to get in trouble with coach but there are definitely some spots that can get you in trouble.
Well that is very encouraging from you, I am looking forward to that now.