Aquila Trento have quickly become the story of the summer, sweeping Dinamo Sassari and routing Olimpia Milano en route to the Serie A finals. Nicolò Origgi looks at how a new arrival this season with an old-school mindset is proving the driving force behind Trento’s remarkable run to the championship series
In a basketball increasingly dominated by combo guards, the examples of pure point guards are getting thinner and thinner as the majority of medium-to-small teams with limited budgets opt for putting (dubious) proven scorers at the helm in order to compensate cheap teammates’ general lack of offensive skills. Usually, such kind of supporting cast mostly consists in raw athletes who can at least thrive in the open court and have some impact from a physical standpoint, with few “3-and-D” specialists to round out the mix. In the very northern part of Italy, a club that is turning heads for their current playoff run displays such features, though with one major exception: a real floor general actually runs the show.
Aaron Craft is the heart and brain of a Trento team stormed into the postseason on the heels of a 12-3 record in the second part of the regular season, only to sweep Italian Cup finalists Sassari in the first round and upset shaky powerhouse Olimpia Milano to take the best of seven series 4-1. Revered among the Ohio State University community – he is the school’s all time leader in steals while his academic resume speaks for itself – and highly decorated for his defensive effort at college level, the 26-year-old with a past as an American football quarterback is living his first full season abroad after a couple of successful D-League stints and a quick stay in Hungary. From what can be seen, though, it seems that the adaptation to new surroundings has gone pretty well. Always leading the pesky team defence by relentlessly putting pressure on the ball and thus enabling athletic freaks such as Dominique Sutton, Beto Gomes, and Dustin Hogue to deny passing lines for endless fastbreak opportunities, Craft sets the tone on offence as well by making good decisions out of the heavily run pick-and-roll – including a wise shot selection when it comes down to the commonly ignored or otherwise abused pull-up jumper from mid-range – and playing smart drive-and-kick basketball thanks to his knack for attacking the lane from any spot on the court. Three-point shooting remains erratic also because of the further line compared to the shorter college range, but the relatively low number of attempts testifies once more the Ohio native’s steady awareness not only of his strengths but also of his limitations.
Due to an average size – no question about his strong body and stamina forged between crazy drills and Superbowl-like battles but he is listed at a generous 1.88m – and individual talent, the ceiling for such a player might not be much higher than where he currently stands at. However, there is still plenty of room and time for Craft to follow the footsteps of the last true point guards left in Europe – the recently retired Pablo Prigioni being the best case scenario considering physical attributes and playing style, even though the Argentine legend’s passing flair was sort of unique. If that does not happen, keep track of the former Buckeye’s journey anyway, because in this case Trento would not likely be the last Cinderella story heard around the Old Continent in years to come.