In order to accomplish the goals that one wants in life, it takes hard work and patience in order to achieve said goals.
During his high school career, Minford’s Elijah Craft exercised those qualities while continuing to grind both inside the classroom and outside of it. And as a result, the 5-9 senior has earned the opportunity that he always wanted.
A two-sport athlete with boundless energy and a humble, but bright mindset that lights up the room, Craft’s attitude and energy were key factors in Ohio Christian University offering an opportunity to play inside its basketball program as the senior officially blazed his own trail to the OCU men’s basketball program for the 2018-2019 season and beyond in a signing ceremony that was held at Minford High School last week.
For Craft, the opportunity is one that he certainly won’t take lightly — especially considering the type of work that he’s put in as a student-athlete.
“It means a lot,” Craft said. “I always wanted to play basketball. I was just waiting and waiting, and I finally got that offer from (Tony) Stockham. I’m just excited and happy to receive an opportunity to play at the collegiate level.”
However, when a person works as hard to improve as Craft has, the opportunity, like Minford head coach Josh Shoemaker will tell anybody, is one that has been earned.
“I’m thrilled anytime a student achieves his or her dreams,” Shoemaker said. “Elijah’s put a lot of hard work into improving as a basketball player, and I thought that this year, that showed in his play. He improved tremendously as the season progressed and just had a great attitude. He wants to keep playing, so I’m excited for him and his opportunity.”
In both basketball and soccer, Craft continuously improved as a member of both programs, developing into an All-District Honorable Mention talent on the pitch while earning All-SOC honors in each of his last two seasons of play — Second-Team in 2016 and First-Team in 2017 — and recovered from a season-ending injury during the 2016-17 campaign to contribute heavily to Minford’s cause during the 2017-18 season on the court. In the latter sport, Craft scored eight points in a row against Ironton to help the Falcons build an 18-point halftime lead, and put together crucial minutes in both affairs against Valley when the Minford backcourt was facing foul trouble.
“It was fun,” Craft said of playing under Josh Shoemaker and Dave Gampp. “They didn’t take or condone unnecessary stuff, and they made sure that you were doing what you were doing. They got me ready for this level. They allowed me to grow, mature, and help me become a team player. It was pretty great. I can’t really describe being a Falcon. It was just amazing, honestly. It was sad to know that, as I was going through both seasons, that my final games in a Minford uniform were coming to an end.”
But as instrumental as Craft has been toward keeping the consistency and competitiveness of both programs alive, the senior is arguably an even better student. Need proof? A $50,000 Ohio’s Future Scholarship to the institution and a 3.6 grade-point-average shows exactly that.
“Elijah’s a tremendous person,” Shoemaker said. “He’s just full of high quality and character. He’s a good student and a role model to the community, and he’ll definitely be a good student-athlete at Ohio Christian.”
That, however, has been evident from the getgo. Throughout the year, Craft has been working out with the help of legendary Tri-State Area coach Randy Ward, a fiery coach who obtained more than positive results in stops at Greenup County, Clay, and Coal Grove. Ward coached Shawnee State University women’s basketball coach Jeff Nickel and West Virginia University basketball hand Cam Thoroughman, among others, at his stops.
“The workouts are pretty hard, but I know that it’s all worth it,” Craft said. “Working under (Randy Ward) just helped me get a scholarship to play college basketball. It just takes a lot of determination to keep doing that, and I’m just glad to have Randy help me train and get ready for college basketball.”
At Ohio Christian, Craft will get to learn under yet another coach with excellent credentials in Tony Stockman, who is in his sixth season as the head coach at the institution. A Medina, Ohio native, Stockman posted a double-figure scoring average in all four years of his collegiate playing career at the NCAA Division I level in stops at Clemson and Ohio State, and ultimately finished with 11.5 points, 2.5 assists, 2.4 rebounds, and a strong 1.6 steals per contest during his collegiate career.
During Stockman’s six years at OCU, the Trailblazers have posted 20-win campaigns in five of those six years, have won the National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association Championship twice (2013 and 2014), and have made an NCCAA National Championship appearance in a third season (2017).
“I felt really comfortable at Ohio Christian,” Craft said. “They treated me as if I was already on the team, and if I was going to college there already. I’m just glad to go there, because I feel like that’s the best place for me to be.”
With his decision set in stone and the academic work well past taken care of, it’s time for Craft to relax a bit and celebrate with the people that he loves and cares for the most — including his Mom, Stephanie, Shawn Kelley, Randy Ward, and Josh Shoemaker, along with quite a few others.
“It’s been great,” Craft said. “It’s been a struggle for four years trying to get noticed and everything, but my family and friends were behind me. God was too. I couldn’t be more happy to have all of them behind me, pushing me.”
“Elijah really put the time in to become a better basketball player,” Shoemaker said. “He’s very competitive. I’m just thrilled that he can continue to pursue his dreams of playing college basketball. He’s a high-energy player who is going to go there and become a tremendous role model for their basketball program. He’s going to work hard and do what’s asked of him.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT