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Get Familiar with Combine Academy Floor General — Dylan Craven

An up and coming prospect who brings an incredible amount of maturity, wisdom and most importantly talent to any program he's on. Dylan Craven, a 6'0 point guard from Combine Academy in North Carolina. Dylan took some time out of his rigorous training schedule to do an in depth interview with founder of The Maple Minute, Josh Millican. Dylan will be on coaches radar in a big way this season, take some time to get familiar with the Canadian table setter now.

To start, could you please introduce yourself to our audience and tell us a bit about your background and how you got into basketball?

My name is Dylan Craven, I am 17 years old and from Brantford, Ontario, Canada. I began my basketball career at age 6 and haven’t stopped since. I started off playing for the Blessed Sacrament Yellow Jackets, and have played for many rep/AAU programs throughout the years. Growing up it has always been basketball, between my brother and I we were somewhere different every weekend, sometimes two different places with one parent each. My family has been all about basketball for as long as I can remember and the ongoing support from all of them is indescribable. My brother Liam and I grew up with the same goal, the same dream, and very similar ideas of how we were going to get there. Liam has already reached the first part of that goal by earning a scholarship to West Virginia University Institute of Technology, and that has only motivated me to keep working hard in hopes of following in his footsteps to eventually both reach the end goal of playing basketball professionally. Basketball and Academics are truly my only focus and I plan on maintaining that level of focus the higher levels I reach in the sport. I got into basketball because it was all I knew at a young age, and it has been all I've known since.

You've been playing at Combine Academy in North Carolina. Can you share some of your most memorable experiences and lessons you've learned while playing there?

I am now in my second year playing at Combine Academy in North Carolina, in my time here at Combine I have grown an immense amount both on and off the court. Living on my own and away from home I have been forced to learn many valuable life-lessons, the main one being understanding how to find a balance between pushing myself and being hard on myself, while also being my biggest supporter and motivator. This is important at all times, but especially when playing in a different country. One of my most memorable experiences so far while playing at Combine was after a showcase game when we beat the team we were tied with in the rankings. The post-game talk consisted of my coach saying “we got in” and the whole team getting hyped because we made the state tournament as the last seed. We eventually went on to win in the first round before losing to the eventual state champions. Overall, the feeling of working towards a goal all year and then achieving it is unmatched, and I look forward to being right back in that tournament this year.

You had the unique opportunity to play for your father with the Brantford Hawks. How did that experience impact your relationship with him, and what did you learn from playing under his guidance?

Playing for the Brantford Hawks and under my dad’s coaching the past two summers is one of the best decisions I have made; although it is not easy, and certainly not for everyone, the growth after just two summers with that group is comparable to none. The dynamic of being coached by my Dad was not always easy, but that is only because he wants the best out of me. Our relationship has definitely grown these past two summers, and even more so within the moments where it wasn’t all positive. The biggest takeaway from playing under my Dad’s guidance has been the confidence that he has instilled in me not only as a player, but as a leader as well. Playing for my Dad is the sole reason behind my success this past summer, as well as the way I have expanded my game for this upcoming season at Combine Academy.

Your brother is a college basketball player. How has having a sibling involved in the sport influenced your own basketball journey and development?

Growing up with my brother on the same journey as me has been so important for me to get where I am today. We didn’t always get along; however, the 2021 school year as we returned to play after COVID-19 restrictions began to lift, we both attended TRC Academy in Brantford, Ontario. We played no games this season besides scrimmages between the junior (Rise Prep) team and Senior (TRC Academy) team; although, there was still competition on the daily. Those scrimmages where me and my brother would go head to head of course weren’t always the most friendly, but we both improved drastically from it. Growing up with my brother also on the same journey as me has been a vital part of my growth both on and off the court.

Can you recall a specific moment or experience that made you fall in love with basketball? What was it about the game that drew you in?

Basketball has always been my calling; even when I was first getting into sports it was what I was drawn to. At a young age I tried multiple sports like any other kid; however, basketball was always different. I fell in love with the little things within the game, the endless moves to try to master, the passes nobody else sees, the adrenaline when in the clutch, and so much more. All of that drew me to the game at a young age, and I continue to devote my life to the game of basketball. I look forward to what’s to come as I continue my journey.

What are your long-term goals in basketball? Are there specific achievements or milestones you're aiming for in your career?

My long-term goals in basketball are to earn a scholarship to play post-secondary, while afterwards also getting paid to play basketball professionally. Eventually I would also love to be a trainer/coach and give back to the sport; However, I want to play the game of basketball for as long as I am able while it is still benefiting me. When it comes to Milestones, a current goal of mine is to achieve 1,000 career points as well as 1,000 career assists; however, there is none greater than receiving a free education while playing the sport that I love.

Every athlete faces challenges and

adversity at some point. Could you share a significant obstacle you've had to overcome in your basketball journey and how you managed to push through it?

Adversity has been the most significant part of my basketball journey, specifically with injuries. The main obstacle I have faced has been the lasting injury to my wrist, which began in March 2021. I was using the shooting machine daily to get up thousands of shots and my shot was feeling the best it ever felt, but one day I was shooting before school and something just felt off. All of my shots were short and I felt some pain in my shooting wrist, but I didn’t think anything of it at the time. As time went on I continued shooting, and so did the pain. I assumed it may just be something I have to shoot through even though it ended up being the literal opposite. I went to see physio and got some exercises, some helped, some didn’t, and I began to get frustrated after months with no answers. I had countless appointments with my physiotherapist that I have known for a very long time, and we discussed different options of what to try next. I was referred to the Kennedy Fowler Sport Medicine clinic located out of Western University in London. I then got an MRI and It concluded that I had small ganglion cysts all along the top of my wrist. The months continued to add up, and we had tried aspiration, injections, and even putting it in a brace. Nothing seemed to do the trick, so we began talking about more invasive options such as taking the cysts out surgically. I decided after almost two years of dealing with the frustration that I wanted to go through with the procedure, but to wait until the end of my 2022 AAU season. We had just won our final tournament in Wisconsin and we drove straight through the night to London where I was getting the procedure the next morning. Monday, July 25th, 2022, was the day I finally felt like things were going to change. The doctor said she took the cysts out and cleaned up all of the inflamed tissue around the area, so it was just time to do physiotherapy and build it back up. It has now been just over a year since my operation and my shooting continues to build back to where it was and my game and mindset have only grown from experiencing that. I wouldn’t be at the point that I am without the help I received from both my long time physiotherapist, as well as the newer wrist specialist that I began seeing after my surgery. Adversity can be challenging and I even felt like quitting at multiple points through the recovery process both before and after the procedure. I had lost all confidence in my abilities, especially the higher level so much so that I was making mistakes on the court purely out of the fear of making that exact mistake. Mentally it has been a battle to get to the point that I am at now; I had to continue to remind myself of the end goal and why it was all going to be worth it in the end. Overall, if there is anything you take from reading this just remember that if you truly want something that bad, whatever you’re going through will all be worth it in the end.

Do you have a dream college or university that you aspire to play for in the future? What factors are important to you when choosing a school to continue your basketball career?

I wouldn’t say I necessarily have a “dream school” for I am just looking for the program that provides me with the best fit both academically and athletically. I prioritize fit in every aspect. I am a big believer in being a part of a winning culture, as well as a program that pushes their players to be the best they can be as athletes and as people. Everything is a factor for me when choosing a school to continue my basketball career, and when I make that decision it will be with full intention to play all of my eligible years with that program. I am a big believer in committing to one program and doing everything I can in order to win games, as well as bring overall success to the school. I look forward to finding the right fit for me and continuing to play the sport I love at the next level.

Can you talk about how you've been working on improving your skills as a point guard? Are there any particular areas of your game that you've been focusing on?

I have been working a lot on shooting out of different pickups. I have especially been working on the scoring aspect of the game, and continuing to expand my game especially after being known as someone who only wanted to pass. I have had a major jump in my confidence and have opened up a whole new level of my game that I am ready to showcase this year while also continuing to do what I do best in creating for others. I have also been focusing on my passing in a more detailed manner, prioritizing my passes not only being on time and on target, but also recognizing personnel and placing the ball right in my teammates shooting pocket.

Who are your basketball role models, and what do you admire most about them? How have they influenced your playing style or mentality on and off the court?

My basketball role models are Damian Lillard and my older brother Liam. They each inspire my playing style or mentality in different ways, both on and off the court. Damian Lillard has been my favourite player for a long time now; although, it is much more than his stellar play on the court that inspires me. It starts with his work ethic and continues with his character, his underdog mentality and commitment to his craft is something that continues to inspire me on my basketball journey. In addition, my older brother Liam who is currently on scholarship to play basketball at West Virginia University Institute of Technology has been someone I look up to in many ways on and off of the court. Watching Liam go away to Combine a year prior to me, go through the recruitment process, and even him having to medical redshirt his freshman year have all prepared me for many years to come. Realizing that things do not go according to plan, but watching the way he has remained positive is something that inspires me through my own adversity as well. Liam is always the first person to hype me up, and I can’t wait to watch him continue his journey this year.

How do you manage your academic responsibilities while pursuing your basketball dreams? What advice do you have for young student-athletes trying to find that balance?

I make sure to manage my time and use it wisely so I can also take some time for myself. Advice I would give to young student-athletes is to have priorities, but to also make managing your mental health a priority as well. Being a student-athlete is not easy and only gets harder the higher level you go, so the earlier you build the routine and habits that are right for you, the better off you will be. It is definitely not always easy, but there are certain sacrifices you need to make in order to reach your goals. Not everybody is willing to make those sacrifices and that is evident, so as long as you stay consistent in taking care of what you need to on, and off of the court, everything will work itself out.

Basketball is a team sport. How do you contribute to team chemistry and what do you believe makes a successful team both on and off the court?

I contribute to my team’s chemistry by always doing my best to uplift my guys. Especially being a point guard and a leader, I aim to make sure my teammates are confident and ready to go for gametime. This builds good culture and good culture breeds winning. I am a firm believer that a team that plays great together can beat a team that has a few great players, and I have seen it first hand countless times. Every team that I am a part of I make it my goal to hold others as well as myself accountable in order to maintain a mutual respect, as well as a like-minded environment.

Could you share your favorite basketball memory or game that stands out to you as particularly special or meaningful?

My favourite basketball memory is honestly not even something from on the court. The best memories I have are from the hotels, long drives, and big tournaments where I get to hang out and spend time with my guys. Especially the past two summers with the Brantford hawks, there has been an amazing culture within the team and our closeness was one of the main reasons behind our success, and my growth as a player. As I continue to grow up and progress along my basketball journey I value the relationships I have made more each day. There have been lots of on court memories, championships, good games, etc, but those wouldn’t carry nearly as much weight without my teammates to celebrate them with.

Lastly, what advice would you give to young, aspiring basketball players who look up to you and hope to follow in your footsteps?

Advice I would give to young and aspiring players is to understand there will be ups and downs and understand that it is okay to not feel motivated all the time, but discipline is the major factor. It is equally if not more important to take care of your mental health as it is to do your skill workouts and training. The biggest lesson I have learned that I wish I could figure out sooner is to trust myself, and be confident in everything I do even if I have to fake it at times. I have made major gains ever since I became more confident in every aspect of my life. Any young players that may be reading this I would say that is the main advice I would give, and I know it is easier said than done, but the earlier you start working on it, the more natural it will become.

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