Craft confirms Pinoy lineage

Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Ohio State star point guard Aaron Craft confirmed his Filipino heritage during a conversation with Pastor Renie Rodejo who visited the Buckeyes training camp in the course of an Athletes In Action exposure program late last year.

Rodejo, 38, told The Star yesterday Craft mentioned he is one-fourth Filipino as his father John’s mother is pure Filipina. “He’s very humble, God-fearing, focused and sincere,” said Rodejo. “I found him to be quite friendly. He’s a born-again Christian, very open and very dedicated in his relationship with the Lord. When he found out I’m Filipino, he immediately told me he’s 25 percent Filipino.”

Athletes In Action spiritual coach Morris Michalski introduced Rodejo to Craft. Michalski is also the spiritual coach of NBA star Kevin Durant.

Rodejo said he asked Craft if he could visit the Philippines and even play here. “At first glance, you wouldn’t think he has Filipino blood, he has pink cheeks and looks very Caucasian,” said Rodejo who was sent with another Filipino R. J. Reyes to the Xenia, Ohio, headquarters of Athletes In Action for a 10-day camp last November. “Aaron wouldn’t commit about visiting or playing in the Philippines. He was very focused on the NCAA. They were practicing for their next game against Rhode Island. All he could tell me was, ‘We’ll see.’ But I could sense he was interested. He’s one of the best point guards in college basketball today and someday, he’ll play in the NBA.”

Craft, 21, is eligible to play in the PBA as a local because he would be classified as a Fil-foreigner. But under FIBA rules, he will not be allowed to play for the Philippines as a dual citizen unless he was able to obtain a Filipino passport before turning 16. The 6-2, 195-pound sharpshooter averaged 10 points as an Ohio State junior last season as the Buckeyes went to the NCAA Elite Eight, losing to Wichita State 70-66 in the quarterfinals. It was Craft who hit a triple with 0.5 of a second left to lift Ohio State to a 78-75 win Iowa State and advance the varsity to the Sweet 16. A minute earlier, he drew a charge for a crucial turnover with Iowa State ahead. In high school, Craft starred in football and basketball. He concentrated on basketball as a senior at Liberty Benton High School in 2009-10, averaging 26 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and 3.2 steals.

An exercise science major, Craft plans to take up medicine and has a 3.88 Grade Point Average. Since high school, he has earned straight As except for a B+ in chemistry. His brother Brandon has served in Afghanistan with the US Army. Father John, who is half-Filipino, is a junior high football and basketball coach and teacher at Fostoria High School. His father is credited for orienting Craft as a defense-minded player. With a year left in his collegiate eligibility, Craft is now Ohio State’s career leader in steals, passing Jay Burson for the honor.

Athletes In Action, a sports ministry, began sending Filipino coaches to its Ohio campus four years ago with Nash Racela and Eric Gonzales the first beneficiaries. National Athletes In Action director Toti Andes, a former Grace Christian coach and chaplain of several PBA teams, is in charge of grassroots development where coaches are deployed in provinces to preach the gospel and teach basketball basics to the youth.

Rodejo, a graduate of Laguna College of Business and Arts, is the St. Paul College varsity coach in Balayan, Batangas, and heads the town’s Divine Love Christian Fellowship Mission church which ministers to 20 to 30 youth and 80 to 100 adults. Rodejo and wife April were missionaries in Japan for three years before relocating to Balayan in 2009.

“With Athletes In Action, I’m able to teach kids not only to play basketball but to learn the game of life,” said Rodejo. “With our church, I’m involved in youth development, taking care of out-of-school youth and trying to put meaning into their lives. We bring kids to Manila for clinics, to watch PBA games, to give them hope. Luckily, Athletes In Action has many friends who help us out like Alex Compton, Nash, Eric, Sebastian Rivera, Jojo Villa, Gabe Norwood, Mark Barroca and Pipo Nuondou.”

Rodejo said there are about 10 Athletes In Action coaches in Metro Manila and 40 more across the country, including Bacolod and Cebu. Every year, Athletes In Action sends two Filipino coaches to the US for a training camp. Rodejo said during his visit, he met NBA players Michael Redd, Greg Oden and Jaren Jackson and watched NBA regular season games between Indiana and Dallas and Phoenix against Cleveland. He’ll never forget watching the Suns game in Cleveland because his seat was on the first row of Section 1, floor level.



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