Charlotte Hornets

Guard Aaron Craft joined Hornets’ camp this week, puts medical school on hold to chase NBA dream

Aaron Craft has taken entrance exams to medical school, but that’s as far as he’s explored the option. He isn’t ready to turn his back on basketball just yet. He’s on the Charlotte Hornets’ roster for the NBA’s Orlando summer league.
Aaron Craft has taken entrance exams to medical school, but that’s as far as he’s explored the option. He isn’t ready to turn his back on basketball just yet. He’s on the Charlotte Hornets’ roster for the NBA’s Orlando summer league. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Best way to sum up Aaron Craft’s last year: He was smart enough to know what he didn’t know about pro basketball.

Craft went unselected in the 2014 NBA draft despite an accomplished career as Ohio State’s point guard. He was an intense defender over four college seasons who averaged 9.8 points, 4.7 assists and 2.5 steals his senior season.

But he wasn’t ready to be an NBA player. He might not ever make it, and that’s OK because Craft has options. A former valedictorian of his high school class, Craft has explored the possibility of entering medical school.

But for now he’s still chasing basketball as a career. After spending last season with the Golden State Warriors’ Development League team, Craft is on the Charlotte Hornets’ roster for Orlando summer league.

“Right now I’m not sure how long I’m willing to go,” Craft said of chasing the NBA. “Right now I’m enjoying what I’m doing and there are multiple places to go.

“Last season (in Santa Cruz) was a good year. I’m definitely a better player than I was when I came out (of college). I’m still improving and opportunities open. I understand (why people ask why he keeps trying). I think about it a lot.”

Craft has taken entrance exams to medical school, but that’s as far as he’s explored the option. He isn’t ready to turn his back on basketball just yet.

“Last spring was a whirlwind, traveling from city to city, coast to coast,” Craft said of his pre-draft workouts. “I just didn’t want to travel too far down that (graduate school) road. There are definitely people back at Ohio State who can help if I move in that direction. If I quit playing basketball in a year or two years from now, then I think I could still go back.

“Would I go back if I get to play seven or eight years? (Enter med school) at 30? I don’t know if I could do that.”

Craft passed up leads to play overseas, which likely would have paid better, to take the D-League option. The advantages of playing for the Santa Cruz Warriors were hopefully more exposure to NBA scouts and the chance to be well coached in NBA nuances.

Craft says there are more differences between college and pro basketball than fans might assume and he wasn’t initially ready for that adjustment.

“I just wasn’t prepared to play at this level, and that’s what the D-League really did to help. We thought it was a good thing to go into an NBA training camp, especially with coach (Steve) Kerr there. That coaching staff was unbelievable. This was a chance to learn and to play a lot.

“The game is different. It’s quicker, you have the (shorter) shot clock, the spacing is so different. Definitely more spacing, so there are things you can take advantage of at the offensive end. Defensive three seconds and the great shooters you’re surrounded with really changes the game.

“I really had to learn how to run a professional team -- really thinking through the game. Figuring out who is hot and how I can get him in positions to be successful. In college, it’s mostly the coaches making those decisions.”

Craft had to sit out Hornets practice Friday with a jammed toe he suffered in a Toronto Raptors tryout camp. He’s not sure about his availability yet for games in Orlando. After this he’ll play for Golden State’s summer league team in Las Vegas.

An Ohioan, Craft naturally followed the Cleveland Cavaliers’ ride to the NBA Finals. With Kyrie Irving hurt, backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova became a national sensation. Like Craft, Dellavedova went undrafted. Also like Craft, he built his game around intense defense.

“Everyone always asks me, ‘Who do you want to emulate to play in this league?’ A guy like Dellavedova, who had great success at the highest level is someone I definitely think I can play very similar to. I sure hope that helps a little bit,” said Craft, who won Development League Defensive Player of the Year.

“Teams need guys like that: hard-nosed and doesn’t make mistakes.”

Ewing on crutches: Hornets associate head coach Patrick Ewing, who is coaching the summer-league team, was on crutches during Friday’s practice after tearing a meniscus in his left knee during a workout.

Unfortunately this is nothing new for the former Hall of Fame center. Ewing said surgery to repair the meniscus after summer league will be the 10th procedure he’ll have on his two knees.

Bonnell: 704-358-129; @rick_bonnell

Hornets schedule at the Orlando Summer League

Saturday 3 p.m. vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

Sunday 3 p.m. vs. Memphis Grizzlies

July 7 3 p.m. vs. Brooklyn Nets

July 8 1 p.m. vs. Orlando Magic (split squad)

July 10 (tip-off time and opponent TBD)

All games are at the Orlando Magic’s training facility. Games are not open to the public but will be televised on NBATV.

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