My colleague Robert Anderson reports that Warren Craft, entering his 10th grade year at William Fleming High School in Roanoke, has orally committed to Virginia Tech. He becomes the first high school player to commit to new Hokies coach James Johnson.
Here is a feature that Robert wrote about Craft in January:
Prayer & prideBy Robert Anderson
Hardy and former Patrick Henry and University of Virginia star Curtis Staples were conducting a joint basketball clinic in Roanoke in 2008 when the young player caught the Fleming coach’s eye.
“I said, ‘Curtis, that kid right there has got something special,’” Hardy said. “Curtis looked at me and said, ‘Mickey, he has it.’
“He’s a jewel.”
And a rare one at that.
The calendar turned to 1997 at the same moment Toni Craft’s biological clock hit 30 years.
Married and employed, there was still one big void in the young Roanoke woman’s life.
She had not yet experienced the joy of motherhood.
“I didn’t think I could have children, so I prayed and prayed and prayed to bless me with a child,” she said. “I prayed and prayed and prayed.”
Like the biblical Hannah, her prayers were answered, but not without further trial.
She bore a son on Aug. 28, 1997, but when Warren Antonio Craft Jr. entered the world that day few people were ready.
Not the least of whom was Toni Craft.
She had expected her baby boy to arrive in November. Suddenly, Warren would have to arrive before Labor Day.
“I was almost three months early,” she said. “I just went in for a regular visit. It was my routine visit. I was going to go in for my visit, and then go to work.
“They said he was in trouble and we need to get him out.”
The routine exam revealed that Craft had suffered a severe loss of amniotic fluid, which protects the fetus during pregnancy.
“I didn’t have any fluid around him,” she said. “All my fluid was gone and they were scared he was going to crush his cord.”
So little Warren was born – all 1pound, 10 ounces of him.
Survival rates for a baby born in 1997 at that weight were in the 90 percent range, but with the possibility of other complications.
“It was touch and go, because they told me his lungs probably weren’t developed,” Toni Craft said. “They said he may have respiratory problems or some vision problems.
“I wasn’t worried. It may sound strange, but it was like a calm. Everybody around me was tense and worried. I was calm, because I prayed for him and he was given to me.”
But not right away.
Warren spent two months in the hospital, and his mother used up all her paid maternity leave from her office job at Anthem before he gained enough weight to be discharged.
Even worse, she was unable to have any physical contact with her newborn for the first several weeks.
“It was terrible,” she said. “I had to leave him and go home. I went to his room all decorated and there was no baby there. It was really rough. I would get up often at 3 or 4 in the morning and go to the hospital.”
There, Toni would stand inches away from her baby in front of a window in Carilion Roanoke Community Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.
“I could see him through the glass,” she said. “He was right there, but I couldn’t touch him. I couldn’t hold him until weeks later.”
Warren Craft left the hospital weighing 5 pounds, and he hasn’t stopped growing.
Now a 6-foot-1 freshman guard on William Fleming’s basketball team, Craft already is one of the premier prospects in the Roanoke Valley.
After scoring 17 points Tuesday night in a loss to Patrick Henry, the 14-year-old is Fleming’s second-leading scorer at 12.1 points per game, while also topping the Colonels in assists, free-throw percentage and 3-point shooting.
The freshman already has put up two games that included double-figure totals in points and rebounds, the first at Fleming since current University of Delaware standout Jamelle Hagins played center for the Colonels from 2006-09.
“He’s just so aggressive and so wiry,” Hardy said. “He jumps well. If you don’t put a body on him, he attacks the glass.”
Hardy, a former Virginia Tech guard who coached a Group AA championship team at Fleming in 2007 and took the 2009 squad to the Group AAA final, is just as impressed with Craft’s other qualities.
“His potential is through the roof,” Hardy said. “He can go as far as he wants to go. He’s a gym rat, but moreso, he’s a good student-athlete.
“I’m shocked at his maturity level being so young. He carries himself in a nice manner. A lot of people have told him he has a lot of ability, but he doesn’t let it go to his head.
“He’s a real humble kid. He’s more concerned about us winning than it is about him.”
To date, Craft does not sound satisfied with the fast start to his varsity career.
“I didn’t expect to start, but I worked hard in practice,” Craft said. “I’ve gotten a little better shooting the ball. I’ve still got work to do on the defensive end. There’s always room for improvement.”
That echoes the sentiments of Fleming boys track and field coach Rudy Dillard.
Craft also is one of Timesland’s best young track prospects. In April he set three Middle School Division meet records in the Cosmopolitan Invitational with marks of 41 feet, 4 inches in the triple jump, 42.13 seconds in the 300-meter hurdles and 16.95 in the 110 hurdles.
However, Dillard is astute enough to know there is a big difference between running for Lucy Addison Middle School and competing at the Group AAA varsity level.
“Just watching the little bit of time I’ve watched him, he’s got a lot of potential,” Dillard said. “He could be one of the best around here if he wants to work.”
As Craft continues to emerge as an athlete, he will have to decide whether he wants to divide his time in the spring between running track for Fleming and playing AAU basketball.
The Fleming freshman isn’t sure which is his best sport.
“It’s hard to say,” Craft said. “I’ve got the love for basketball, but I’m good at track too.”
Hardy believes there is plenty of time for Craft to excel in both sports.
“He’s definitely a two-sport athlete,” the Fleming basketball coach said. “He reminds me of a David Wilson from Tech. He could be in that category.”
To Toni Craft – who in 2004 was divorced from her husband, Warren Sr. – her son is simply a blessing.
When Warren was in the sixth grade at Addison, one of his class assignments was called “Meet my Hero.”
Warren’s hero was not LeBron James or Kevin Durant.
It was his mom.
“She is always pushing to do good in school,” Craft said. “She has always done a good job.”
Mother and son both agree that the circumstances of his premature birth forged a tight bond.
“I’m different from other people,” Warren said. “It made us closer to each other.”
When Toni finally was able to bring her baby home from the hospital, she admits that she treated him like a china doll.
“Absolutely,” she said. “I was very cautious, very protective.
“When he first started playing football, when he ran his touchdowns I ran the whole field with him on the sidelines. I ran out a couple of times when he was down, but I started backing away.”
Warren has been Toni’s full-time assignment for 14 years.
“I’m his hero,” she said. “I don’t know if he knows it or not, but he is mine.
“If he doesn’t touch another basketball or run track, I’m just so proud to be his mom.”