Kreft Has Found His Focus, Turning His Life Around At Chipola
January 26, 2008
By St. Clair Murraine (Democrat)
While much more might have been expected from the 7-footer, what Kreft did against Tallahassee Community College was perfect with Chipola coach Greg Heiar.
"He was executing our game plan to beat Tallahassee," Heiar said. "That's the sign of a mature young man. Every week it gets better; he's focused on the team winning and on our goal.
"To me, it's about winning the basketball game. It's about Jon Kreft doing his job and executing our game plan against Tallahassee to win. I couldn't be prouder of Jon."
Kreft is at Chipola getting a new lease on his basketball career, which was in shambles just over a year ago. Kreft was headed to FSU, where he was expected to give the Seminoles an inside presence that they sorely needed last season. But a run-in with the law on drug charges prompted FSU to withdraw its scholarship.
Kreft enrolled at Chipola last spring, and Heiar became his mentor. Kreft said he still has dreams of becoming a Seminole, perhaps as early as next season.
Heiar had concerns about how much would be said of his past troubles, but Kreft spoke candidly about the incident that cost him his scholarship to Florida State. At times he seemed disgusted over the choices he'd made and how they almost destroyed a basketball career that seems destined to lead him to the pros.
"I definitely feel regretful, but everything happens for a reason," he said. "I think this place here is the best place for me. To have a D-I scholarship taken away and to come to this program I didn't have any clue what I was being put into. I was just thankful to have another chance."
Having to work his way through a junior college wasn't an option that Kreft might have considered. He didn't have to. Rivals.com rated him fifth among centers in the nation. He had plenty of scholarship offers.
The recruiting process was overwhelming, he said, explaining his reason for committing to FSU as a sophomore in high school. But Kreft said there was the other demon of peer pressure that he couldn't get rid of in the midst of being consumed by his growing national popularity.
The influences that led to his drug use got stronger as boredom set in, he said. How he was doing in school and living in an upscale community in South Florida had no bearing on his decisions, he said. The relationships that he had developed with the wrong crowd had been ingrained since his ninth-grade year at Douglas High School in Parkland, he said.
"I felt out of place because basketball took so much of my time that I felt like I wasn't living a normal life," he said. "I started hanging out with those kinds of people and doing those kinds of activities that made me feel normal in some way. It really wasn't. It was just messing up what I had; totally destroying that. I didn't realize that until all of that happened."
Heiar began to help Kreft put his personal and basketball life back together immediately after he got to Marianna. Gaining the 20-year-old's trust wasn't easy at first, Heiar said.
Their first meeting was about setting goals and attaining them, while he stayed on a straight path. Heiar said he also let Kreft know that he wouldn't be monitored or supervised more than any other player on the team.
"When I met Jon, I was very impressed," Heiar said. "He is a very smart kid. I think what he was quick to realize is we're not trying to use Jon for anything. We're trying to help Jon.
"A lot of people have had negative things to say about Jon, but once you meet him he's a very nice kid. He's very humble and very hard-working."
Kreft's effort on the floor has made him a more complete player, Heiar said. He went to Chipola with the fundamentals down pat. A personal trainer had helped him work on ball-handling and shooting from anywhere on the floor.
During the summer, Kreft learned to play like a guard, part of Heiar's drill to make sure each of his players understand every role.
"As the year has gone on, his (basketball) IQ is night and day," Heiar said. "He really understands. Not that he didn't understand before, but he had never been in this type of environment. He is amazing to watch when there is no defense and you're doing a one-on-zero workout. Now he's starting to play all over the floor."
Going into tonight's rematch with the Eagles, Kreft is averaging 4.4 points per game, with three rebounds per game to go with 32 block shots in 22 games. He has a 75 percent average from the free-throw line, hitting 33 of 44.
Kreft is averaging just under 12 minutes playing time per game, but his presence has been a significant part of Chipola's success.
"He is more poised; his game has elevated through the roof since he's been here," said forward Gary Flowers, a transfer from Oklahoma State.
"He impacts the game on many different levels that is hard to match. His energy is through the roof. He's got all of the intangibles."
One non-basketball intangible that Flowers likes is Kreft's culinary ability, noting it as a must-know fact. His favorite meal is a breakfast of waffles, eggs and sausage.
"Oh yeah, he does some great waffles," he said. "He hasn't done that for the team, but if he's doing it and you're there he'll cook you one."
Kreft's basketball success came quickly. He didn't play organized basketball until he was a teenager and that only happened because his girlfriend at the time encouraged him, he said. He joined the Vipers, a youth travel team, and eventually won the starting center position on his high-school team in his sophomore year.
That same year, the Miami Herald named Kreft to its All-Broward County first team. He'd become a high school All-American by his senior year.
The role he is playing at Chipola might not make him eligible for a Panhandle Conference post-season award, but that isn't as important as reviving his career.
"This year my goal is to get better and get back to where I was," he said. "I've been working hard for it. After being here a couple more months, I'm going to move on."