Most kids who have big dreams picture themselves hitting the winning shot in the big game, doing an imaginary countdown before hoisting toward the backyard basket.
Ohio State guard Aaron Craft’s countdown had an alternative slant.
”I think we know I’m a defensive guy,” Craft said after his last-second shot against Iowa State sent the Buckeyes to the West Region semifinals. ”So I think I’m in the backyard (saying) three, two, one, taking a charge, something like that.”
College basketball has few true defensive stoppers, players who can alter a game without scoring a point.
The opening West Region semifinal at Staples Center on Thursday night will have two: Craft and Arizona’s Nick Johnson.
Athletic, active guards, Craft and Johnson have been disruptive forces all season, tasked with slowing the opposing team’s best perimeter players, doing just that more often than not.
They are the main cogs to their teams’ defensive success and thrive on it.
”I take that personally, knowing that I’m the main defensive guy and my energy really affects the team,” Johnson said. ”I’m taking it personally upon myself to do it every single game and show my team I’m playing really, really hard. It’s contagious.”
The nephew of late Boston Celtics guard Dennis Johnson – another player noted for his defensive prowess – Johnson arrived in Tucson as a rare high school prospect who enjoyed playing defense.
He’s lived up to that reputation in two years at Arizona, becoming the defensive engine for the Wildcats this season as a sophomore.
A freakishly athletic 6-foot-3, Johnson has exceptional lateral quickness and springy legs that allow him to soar in for blocks when opposing players least expect it. San Diego State’s Chase Tapley found that out in the championship game of the Diamondhead Classic, when Johnson swatted away what appeared to be an uncontested layup at the buzzer to secure the Wildcats’ title on Christmas night.
After a midseason funk, Johnson has come alive again at the end of the season, starting with a strong performance against Arizona State point guard Jahii Carson in the regular-season finale.
Continue Reading: Defensive stoppers to meet in West Region (The Associated Press)