Carrier Classic Will Be Special for Craft Family
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — There will be just one thing missing on Friday night, one piece to an otherwise perfect evening off the coast of South Carolina, on the top deck of a United States aircraft carrier.
Photo by Jim Davidson
It’s there, in the Charleston Harbor, where Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft will begin his junior season, where his younger sister Cait will play her first collegiate game, and where their father, a school teacher of 27 years, will be thinking about his oldest son.
“That would be too surreal to have the third one,” said John Craft, who teaches American History and Government at Fostoria High School in the northwest corner of Ohio.
“That would have been one of those ‘let’s keep it a secret’ deals.”
Maybe they will, or rather have.
The Craft’s oldest son, Brandon, is currently deployed in Afghanistan as a soldier in the United States Army. He’s been overseas since back in March, when he was getting updates on his phone about Aaron’s Elite Eight victory over Syracuse from an airplane hanger in Alaska.
“The first time he flew from Washington to Nova Scotia then to Germany,” Craft’s dad said.
“For some reason, the day we played Syracuse, they went the other way. They went the western route to Alaska, so he was sitting in a hanger waiting for his plane. He was still in the United States, so he was still getting service, and my wife was giving him text messages.”
Aaron’s older brother took off for Germany, and eventually the muck in Afghanistan, knowing that his little bro was headed for the Final Four in New Orleans. It was a proud moment for everyone in the Craft family, but nearly eight months later, Brandon is still on the front lines, anxiously waiting for his chance to come home.
“He’ll be back in the United States, it should be November 17,” Aaron Craft said Wednesday.
“He has to do some post-deployment debriefing, but I talked to him yesterday and he just finished his last mission over there.”
While Aaron doesn’t talk about it much, it has not always been easy for the Craft family. They take solace in the fact Brandon is doing what he is passionate about, what he feels like he was born to do, but it will make for an emotional night Friday in Charleston.
That’s when Aaron and Cait will take the court together for the first time in front of military personnel – and possibly even the President of the United States – for the Carrier Classic double-header.
“It definitely has become a big part of all of our lives,” said Cait, an 18-year-old freshman on the Ohio State women’s basketball team.
“Some of my family members don’t really like to talk about it or think about it, but I know personally – and I can speak for everyone in our family – we definitely do worry about him.
“There isn’t a day that goes by where we don’t think about it. It’s really hard because I started my college career down here, I left home for the first time and I’m going through all these changes and he’s not here with me.”
That was something Aaron had to deal with back in March, as he prepared for the biggest game of his life against Kansas. He was trying not to think about his brother, who had battled through a tough knee injury from his days as a linebacker to get back with his unit overseas.
“Brandon didn’t want Aaron worrying about it, because of the task at hand he had to deal with,” said their father, who is also a high school football coach in Fostoria.
“There was a little bit of Aaron that understood how frustrated Brandon was. It’s kind of like going through two-a-days or conditioning and then Friday nights or Saturday afternoons come and you’re on the sideline. You want your son to be out there and part of what he’s prepared himself for.”
That’s exactly what Aaron will be doing on Friday night, when the Buckeyes face Marquette University in the second-ever Carrier Classic. This year’s game will be held on the top deck of the USS Yorktown, and Aaron couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to get the season started, while honoring the veterans who have fought for this country’s freedom.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Craft, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten.
“Our girls get to play right before us, so it’s going to be a really good day for the Craft household. My sister’s first game is going to be on an aircraft carrier against a great team in Notre Dame, and we get to play our first test of the year against Marquette in a setting not many people get to take part in.”
In scheduling Ohio State to be a part of this game, OSU head coach Thad Matta was hoping to teach his players a little bit about the world, and to give them some experience outside their little bubble as student-athletes at a major university.
That’s something the Craft’s have already experienced since Brandon joined the military after a knee injury prematurely ended his playing days at the University of Findlay.
“I just have a better appreciation for what he does over the past couple years, just understanding where he is,” Aaron said this week.
“Being able to talk to him every two weeks or so has been great, but to be able to represent, and hear the things he talks about and how much guys over there like sports, it’s going to be a big moment. It’s going to be bigger than a basketball game.”
Aaron’s sister, Cait, is a freshman at Ohio State and a point guard for Jim Foster’s women’s team. She was Ohio’s Division III Player of the Year last season at Liberty-Benton High School, where she averaged 21.4 points and 6.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 4.3 steals as a senior.
But she never imagined this was how she would start her college career, alongside her older brother Aaron in a place that will hold tremendous value for her entire family, even when Brandon does return to the States safe and sound.
“It’s definitely going to be a unique experience. My first college game is going to be on a ship,” she said this week in a phone interview.
“It’s going to hold a lot of sentimental value for myself and I know it will for Aaron too. Having our brother overseas in Afghanistan, that’s what’s going to make it so special, having an emotional connection to the game is going to be unbelievable.”
While Aaron seems to be a little more focused on the task at hand, calling Friday night’s game “a business trip” for the Buckeyes, Cait doesn’t know exactly what to expect when she steps on the court with all of that emotion.
“I’m honestly not sure. I’ve thought about it and I know he’s going to be one of my first thoughts,” she said of her brother Brandon.
“Honoring veterans is the whole reason the Carrier Classic even exists. Once the game starts, all my focus will be on basketball but when we first get out there he’s going to be the first thing on my mind.”
And on the minds of all the Crafts, who are counting down the days until Brandon can be here with them. They know he’ll be out there on Friday night, even if he doesn’t make it back in time.
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