Aaron Craft is a 26 year old 188 cm guard from Ohio playing his fourth professional season and first with AS Monaco Basket (France-ProA). Last season he played with Dolomiti Energia Trento (Italy-Serie A) playing 44 games averaging 10.3ppg, 4.2rpg, 4.8apg, Steals-1(2.3spg), FGP: 48.5%, 3PT: 29.9%, FT: 76.9%. Two seasons ago he gained experience with Szolnoki Olajbanyasz (Hungary-A Division playing10 Eurocup games averaging 4.3ppg, 2.4rpg, 3.3apg, 1.6spg. In the Hungarian A Division he played 12 games averaging 6.8ppg, 2.9rpg, 4.2apg, 1.9spg, 2FGP: 54.3%, 3FGP: 47.8%, FT: 78.6%, in Jan.’16 moved to Santa Cruz Warriors (D-League) playing 30 games averaging 13.5ppg, 4.6rpg, Assists-3(7.3apg), 2.0spg, FGP: 53.4%, 3PT: 27.8%, FT: 82.3%. In his rookie season he played with the Golden State Warriors (NBA), released in Oct.’14, then moved to Santa Cruz Warriors (D-League) playing 57 games averaging 9.4ppg, 5.0rpg, 6.1apg, Steals-2(2.5spg), FGP: 49.4%, 3PT: 27.0%, FT: 80.1%. He played at Ohio State(NCAA) from 2010-2014 playing a total of 148 games and as a senior played 35 games averaging 9.8ppg, 3.6rpg, 4.7apg, 2.5spg, FGP: 47.3%, 3PT: 30.2%, FT: 74.1%. He spoke to German Hoops about basketball before the Basketball Champions League game against the EWE Baskets Oldenburg in Oldenburg.
Thanks Aaron for talking to German Hoops. You have played in Hungary and Italy as a professional and in the G-league. You didn´t make the trip to Oldenburg. Did you get hurt in the last game?
I suffered a light injury. Since it´s early in the season, the club wanted to stay cautious and not risk me getting more serious injury. So that is why I didn´t make the trip to Oldenburg.
What do you know in general about the country Germany and it´s basketball?
I know Germany is large and I have only heard good things about the league from my ex teammate Dru Joyce. He said that it´s a good and comfortable place to play where the money arrives on time. Last season I had the opportunity with Trento to scrimmage Munich and Bamberg. Those are great teams and it was a great experience playing against them.
Do have any friends playing in Germany or that have played here in the past?
I played with Shavon Shields last season who played with Frankfurt and with Dru Joyce this season. I also know Alba Berlin players Spencer Butterfield and Peyton Siva.
You won three high school titles, reached the NCAA final 4, been in Time magazine and last year reached the final in Serie A. How content are you that you will win your first professional title overseas?
I don´t know, but I hope so. I believe very much in our team and we all trust each other and play well together. But so much can still happen until the end of the year with injuries. Usually in other countries there is that one dominant team, but in France it´s unique in that we have 4-5 teams competing for the title. I hope that we can make a run and go into the playoffs strong.
You easily won the first game 88-73 against the EWE Baskets Oldenburg. What stood out in that game was the good shooting in the paint area of your team. What kind of game can we await this time and what will be key to winning?
We are leading our group in scoring in the Basketball Champions League and we were ready for them at our arena. We played well together at home, but on the road it´s always a different story. We have some injuries and they will be motivated to win the game. It will be a competitive good game.
Even being a defensive specialist what is the most difficult thing about defending a Mickey Mcconell?
When I watched him on video, I was really impressed with his understanding of the game. He never forces anything. When he has the open shot he will take it and he also knows how to find his teammates. He is tough to guard. It is difficult to speed him up and make him be uncomfortable. One really sees that he has a lot of experience.
Monaco is playing an excellent season in the BCL and France Pro A. What has been the secret to the success despite hauling in seven new players? Has the team reached it´s potential yet?
I hope that we haven´t reached our total potential yet. It all has to do with trust. We trust each other so much. Every guy plays between 20-22 minutes. We have a lot of depth and have no drop off´s when guys come in. We never have just one guy that will do the scoring each game, but it can be another guy each game. When a guy gets hot then we just continue to feed him the ball that game.
AS Monaco score many points and giving up little points as well as rebounding well in both competitions. Is there anything that this team can still improve on?
Our biggest struggle this season has been with rebounding. We don´t have that dominant big man that will get us 10 rebounds a game. We need more of a team effort on the boards each game. We just give up too many offense rebounds and we have to cut down on that.
How beneficial has it been playing with veterans Gerald Robinson and DJ Cooper? How has their presence helped you this season with your game?
They are both great players. When your surrounded by great players, it makes your job a lot easier. Cooper and I compliment each other well, but he is a different player from me. Robinson has done a good job adjusting to a new role this season. He is used to playing the point, but this season has strictly played the shooting guard position. He is settling in well and shooting the ball well.
Why isn´t a guy like DJ Copper in the NBA? Is his scoring consistency something that has kept him away?
It´s very difficult to put yourself in the place of a NBA GM. There could be one reason or multiple reasons why he isn´t there. I think he is a great player. Coop has carved out a great career in Europe. I think he could play in the NBA. It just depends what the NBA wants.
How amazing has it been living in Monte Carlo, Monaco? Was meeting Prince Albert the highlight so far off the court?
We actually don´t live in the city, but about 10-15 minutes away. It is great living in France. It´s 10C now and sunny. But I am often in Monte Carlo and it´s a great place and very international. You have people from all over the world living there. I haven´t met the prince yet, but I think if we win a title then we may get that chance. I haven´t seen any celebrities yet.
Let´s talk about your game. Your a point guard that excels on the defensive end. Does your defense get your offense going on a regular basis?
I like to think so. All starts on the defensive end. If we play well on defense, then our offense comes naturally. Our game becomes easier when we can get out on transition.
Your dad stressed the importance of defense and how it was more important to be a good defensive player than offensive player. To what NBA player would you describe your game to?
I would say my game is comparable to Kirk Hinrichs and Matthew Dellavedova.
You’re a guy that can fill the stat sheet, but what do you feel is a hidden strength as a player that doesn´t always get noticed right away on the court?
I pride myself on being a good leader. I think that I do a lot of things that aren´t seen in the box score like tipping balls, deflections and making the smart play. I also put my teammates in good positions to score, and make the smart play which doesn´t necessarily lead to the assist. I think that my teams have appreciated that from me and it helped me to play well.
After playing your first season inn Europe in Hungary you made the jump last season to the higher league Italy playing with Dolomiti Energia Trento (Italy-Serie A) playing 44 games averaging 10.3ppg, 4.2rpg, 4.8apg, Steals-1(2.3spg), FGP: 48.5%, 3PT: 29.9%, FT: 76.9%. How do you feel did your game mature last season?
I think that having had experience in Europe has helped me. I think that also having played for successful teams has helped. When your playing for a good team where the roles are defined, then it reflects the good teammates that you have.
In your first season in Europe you played with Szolnoki Olajbanyasz (Hungary-A Division) playing 10 Eurocup playing 10 games averaging 4.3ppg, 2.4rpg, 3.3apg, 1.6spg; In the Hungarian A Division: you played 2 game averaging 6.8ppg, 2.9rpg, 4.2apg, 1.9spg, 2FGP: 54.3%, 3FGP: 47.8%, FT: 78.6%. What was your wake up call to being in Europe where you knew you were far away from home?
That first night in Hungary. I remember landing in Budapest with my wife and then getting driven one and a half hours to where I would be playing. We were in a small town in a dark apartment all alone. The club did a good job making us feel welcome. But it was a big challenge as there was little English spoken there. It helped that my wife was there, but when I was at practice, there was stress because my wife would be home alone or when we were on the road for three days, it was the same. It was easy when I was home, but not easy when I wasn´t there.
Was Europe at that stage one step too early or was it just the wrong situation?
My first stay in Hungary ended up not being the right situation. I had been recruited by the coach, but he got fired and the new coach had no ties to me and wanted to go in another direction. It wasn´t a great situation for me. But I went back to the G-League played well and then ended up in a better situation last season in Italy. In the end, it worked out well for me. It´s crazy how the path worked out for me.
As a rookie you played with the Golden State Warriors in pre season. What kind of experience was it playing with this organization. What was the most beneficial thing that you got from the six weeks?
It was a very professional atmosphere. The whole staff was great. It was a great experience seeing how a top professional team was run like. For a short time, I was around some of the best players and coaches. I was able to absorb so much. It was a great experience that I won´t forget.
You then played with the Santa Cruz Warriors (D-League) playing 57 games averaging 9.4ppg, 5.0rpg, 6.1apg, Steals-2(2.5spg), FGP: 49.4%, 3PT: 27.0%, FT: 80.1%. You won the G-league title. What was special about this team since winning a G-League title isn´t easy with all the season long roster changes?
It started with the coaching staff. Head coach Casey Hill made it fun to play there. He made the whole atmosphere enjoyable. He knew how much the G-league is a grind and just made the whole experience enjoyable. We also had a talented group of guys that had fun playing together. Some of my teammates were Elliot Williams, Klay Thompson´s brother Mychel, Blake Griffin´s brother Tyler and James Michael Mcadoo.
You played in three NBA Summer Leagues and in the G-League. Have you put NBA on the back burner for now or would you take another opportunity in the G-League?
I wouldn´t necessarily turn down the NBA. I would only go back to the G-League, if I knew that a club really had serious interest in me. I wouldn´t go blindly into playing in the G-league again. I am very happy in Europe. You can make a good living here. I don´t know what the next two years will bring, but I am happy with AS Monaco.
Did you ever feel like you were close to a NBA call up? What kind of feedback have you received over the years about your NBA chances?
I believe that I was closer the second time. I don´t really know if clubs were telling me nice things, but not telling the truth. The most important thing for me is to able to play my style and have fun. If an NBA team is intrigued by my game great, but if not then I´m fine in Europe.
You played at Ohio State from 2010-2014 reaching the NCAA final 4 and Sweet 16. Was the 64-62 loss to Kansas your most bitter? What do you still remember today from that game?
We should of won. We were up by three points with three minutes to go. It was a crazy game. It was an amazing experience playing in the football dome in New Orleans. I´m glad that I was able to do it at least once.
You had many memorable games, but was your buzzer beater against Iowa State one of your most memorable games in school?
It´s up there. Making a buzzer beater in a NCAA tournament is remarkable. But for me more memorable were the team wins we had. I remember William Buford´s buzzer beater against Michigan State. That was our last regular season game the year we went to the NCAA Final 4.
How did head coach Thad Matta groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career?
He gave us freedom and didn´t control us and let us grow on and off the court. He taught us not only to be a professional on the court, but also off the court. He taught us to be good citizen´s of the world. He did a good job rounding us out as people.
Who won a one on one in practice you or Shannon Scott?
I would say that it was pretty even, but I would still give myself the nod.
Who was the toughest player that you battled in the NCAA that is in the NBA right now
Trey Burke. We had a very high respect of each other. It was a great challenge and fun guarding him.
If you had to construct your own NBA Rushmore which 4 heads would you chose?
Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant.
Lebron James failed to win his fourth NBA title and is still three away from Michael Jordan. Where does Lebron stand right now in your opinion in the never ending debate of who is the best of all-time?
I think that it´s tough not to pick Jordan, but Lebron is a freak and has done things that Jordan never did on the court. I think that when all is said and done, Lebron will be the greatest, but for now it´s tough not taking Jordan.
There has been criticism of Russell Westbrook to be focusing more on rebounding to help inflate his stats and possibilities of getting triple doubles instead of focusing on his defensive assignments. Do you feel that this is a fair assessment to the player Russell Westbrook?
He is just very competitive and wants to win every game. Anytime your that close to a record, it would be foolish not to go for it. It is a combination of going for record and wanting to win. In the end they did win many games.
How do you summarize the 2017 NBA Draft. What sleepers do you see playing a role in the NBA?
Guys like Kuzma and Mitchell were seen as being good, but not expected to play so well.
Where will the journey of the Houston Rockets go this season with Chris Paul and James Harden in the back court. Do they have enough to make a serious run at the title or is something missing?
The only thing that will stop the Rockets will be turnovers and missing shots. When they are making shots, then they can beat anyone. It will be a challenge for them because the west is very dangerous.
How do you rate the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas trade? Who got the better deal and which team will profit better in the long run?
That is tough to say. Kyrie has been playing unbelievably well, but the Cavs have been without Thomas. It could switch at the end of the season when Thomas is back, but for now Boston got the better deal.
Where will the journey of the Oklahoma Thunder go this season with Westbrook, George and Anthony? Can they make a serious run in the west?
The Thunder are tough to rule out when you have three players like that that are so dangerous. No team in the west will want to play them in the playoffs.
What was the last movie that you saw?
Lord of the rings trilogy. My wife isn´t the biggest fan and since she is away, I have been watching it.
Thanks Aaron for the chat.