Ohio basketball prospect Aaron Craft became the foundation of what will be a large 2010 class of Tennessee recruits Wednesday by verbally committing to sign with the Vols.
"I think it's going to be great to be a part of a program that's been on the rise,'' said Craft, who scored a 32 on his ACT and possesses a 4.0 grade-point average. "It's easy for me to see myself going all-out for Coach (Bruce) Pearl and his coaching staff.''
A look at Craft's resume indicates he has learned the value of hard work, even if neither Rivals.com nor Scout.com has him rated in their top 100 players in the Class of 2010.
A 6-foot-1 combo guard, Craft has helped lead the Ohio Red AAU team to a 134-3 record over the past two seasons and been the starting point guard on a Liberty-Benton High School team in Findlay, Ohio, that's 47-2 over the past two seasons.
Craft's father, John, has talked to a number of people in the Tennessee basketball community to learn how his son projects with the Vols.
"I've heard some people compare him to Dane Bradshaw, and from what I've heard about Dane, that's very flattering, and there could be some similarities,'' John Craft said. "He (Aaron) distributes the ball and he defends. Aaron's biggest attributes are his (basketball) IQ and determination.''
Aaron Craft averaged 18.3 points per game running the point for his high school team last season, making 53 percent of his shots, including 36 percent beyond the 3-point arc. He also made 82 percent of his free throws and had 88 assists and 91 steals in 22 games.
In addition to basketball, the 185-pound Craft starts at quarterback for his football team and led the Eagles to the Division V state-title game as a freshman.
Craft completed 72 percent (350-for-485) of his passes over two seasons for 4,758 yards and 48 touchdowns with 14 interceptions with a cumulative 24-3 record.
"Aaron likes and respects football,'' John Craft said, "but his heart is in basketball.''
Other basketball offers came from Dayton, Miami of Ohio, Bowling Green and Toledo. Craft also is being recruited by Harvard, and he has canceled a recruiting visit scheduled with Michigan after coming to see UT on Aug. 23.
"I had an idea of what I thought the campus might look like, a big Division I school, and I'd pictured it all spread out like Ohio State,'' Aaron Craft said. "But everything was close-knit and the facilities were close together, and I really liked that.
"I came away with a really good feel after meeting some of the players briefly, and I got a really good idea of what the coaches are trying to do.''
UT associate head coach Tony Jones and Pearl saw Craft in an AAU tournament in Cincinnati this summer, and Pearl followed him in Orlando, Fla.
"Coach Pearl had flown out to Los Angeles for a media function, and he still took the time out of his schedule to call me,'' Craft said. "That really jumped out in my mind, that he made that time for me.''
As for the Bradshaw comparison, Craft said he's trying to get his hands on the former Vols' book, "Vertical Leap,'' to gain insight as to what he brought to the program.
"I go into games with a mentality that offense can go wrong for anybody at anytime, but on the defensive end, if something goes wrong it's your fault, because that's about how much effort and intensity you put into it,'' Craft said. "I view myself as a team player; I try to help my teammates get better in practice and I look for them in the games, and I think I can bring that tough defensive side that can carry over to offense.''
The Vols could end up signing five players in the 2010 class.
Tennessee has a verbal commitment from 6-9 power forward Kenny Hall from Stone Mountain, Ga., (Rivals No. 49 overall, Scout's No. 31 overall) in the 2009 class and is looking to add another.
The Vols could lose as many as seven scholarship players over the next two seasons to the NBA and graduation.