By Chris Mahr
Ohio State PG Aaron Craft has a reputation for his pesky defense and his unflappable, efficient leadership of the Buckeyes’ offense. Yet perhaps his most well-known hallmark has nothing at all to do with his skill on the court but rather his cheeks.
Seemingly within minutes of stepping onto the court for each game and practice, both of the junior’s cheeks are fully flushed with a scarlet hue similar to the Buckeyes’ color scheme. It’s not just the color that’s noticeable and notable, but also the shape.
It’s common for people working up a sweat to have red circles form in the area of their cheekbones. But when Craft is flushed, it’s in the form of rectangles, extending from just below his eyelids all the way down to his jawline.
“I’m of very fair complexion, so they blame me for it,” joked Craft’s mother, Wendy, over the phone from the family’s hometown of Findlay, OH. Craft’s mom said that both she and Aaron’s brother, Brandon, also get easily flushed either when it’s hot out or when they’re working out.
“But I have no idea why it’s a stripe,” she added. “It’s never bothered him physically, but maybe he should get it checked out.”
Wendy Craft says that talk will turn to Aaron’s cheeks for about half the interviews she conducts with the media. “Even if they’re not putting it in the story, they’ll mention it [in the interview],” she said.
Type “Aaron Craft rosy cheeks” into Google and you will be submerged with references to his facial complexion and even one Buckeye fan that refers to Craft as the “Rosy-Cheek Bandit.” People have incorrectly speculated that the red cheeks are a result of the chronic skin condition Rosacea, but Craft’s mother says it’s just genetics that she apparently passed down to her sons; Craft’s sister, Cait, doesn’t turn red-faced nearly as easily on the Ohio State women’s basketball team.
So is Craft bothered by the fact that his cheeks often obscure his standing as one of the Big Ten’s brightest stars? Hardly.
“[I wasn’t recognized until] after the Florida game [in 2010] since it was the first on ESPN,” Craft told Ohio State’s student newspaper, The Lantern, shortly after completing his freshman season. “I think people mostly recognize my red cheeks, not really me.”
Aaron’s mother says that most people in the Craft’s hometown are used to his defining physical trait. In fact, it even allows him to better connect with his younger fans.
“Little kids love Aaron, and he loves little kids,” she said. “Those kids get a kick out of his cheeks because their cheeks are all red, too.”
Coincidentally, the national player of the year from a season ago came onto the scene and made as big an impact with his defining physical trait as he did with his play.
Kentucky’s Anthony Davis was equally famous for his unibrow and his shot-blocking prowess. He wanted to be known first and foremost for his abilities as a basketball player but had enough of a sense of a humor to embrace the ‘brow as part of who he was. (He even trademarked it, anticipating its business potential.)
Davis’ potential successor as the national defensive player of the year appears to adhere to a similar mentality when it comes to his unique physical feature. Craft’s natural humility — born out of a childhood spent in small-town Ohio — allows him to take it in stride. As does the fact that Craft is now one of the top point guards in the nation.
Craft has been a key component of Ohio State teams that made the Final Four (2012) and Sweet Sixteen (2011). He was the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 and the Sixth Man of the Year in 2011.
Yes, in those rare instances when Craft plays a sub-par game, it’s easy for local sportswriters to joke about how he was red-faced over his performance. But more often than not, it serves as a physical reminder of how hard he works and his refusal to take a break when he’s on the floor.
With Ohio State (8-1) ranked No. 7 in the country, Craft has asserted himself more at the offensive end this season, where his assist-to-turnover ratio (3.6) and PPG average (9.2) are at career highs.
Whether it’s with his pesky defense or his heady offense, Craft is intent on making sure that even if he’s the one that’s red-faced, it’s his opponents who end up feeling truly embarrassed.
And who knows? If Craft continues to shine for the Buckeyes, perhaps he can get a trademark of his own.
Photo Credit: Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports