For the first time since their season-ending defeat to North Carolina in the NCAA tournament, the Creighton Bluejays were on display for public eyes to observe in Thursday’s first session of the Metro Basketball League at Omaha Sports Academy.
With last season’s accomplishments in the rear-view mirror, the Bluejays appear focused on dodging the obstacles of the road ahead, hoping it will lead them back to the big dance.
Over the summer, the team’s time to practice together is limited by NCAA rules — as well as the absence of some key Bluejays. Center Gregory Echenique is trying to help his home nation of Venezuela qualify for the Olympics, while Doug McDermott attends high-profile camps like this weekend’s Amar’e Stoudemire skills academy in Chicago. Many factors prevent the Bluejays from practicing as a complete unit, but the players are doing what they can to improve individually in the down time.
“I feel like good players are made from March to October and good teams are made October through March,” said senior Josh Jones.
Jones said he is using the summer to improve his ability to penetrate defenses off the dribble, come off screens prepared to shoot, and feed the ball to post players.
Jones’ sentiments were echoed by teammate Ethan Wragge, who aims to improve in some of the same areas.
“This summer has been big for our skill development with the coaches. For me, personally, I need to be able to put the ball on the floor a little better, guarding the perimeter, and I need to work on my passing a little bit more into the post,” said the Minnesota sharpshooter.
Jones and Wragge appear to be headed for some very similar workouts, but Jones stressed the importance of each player working on whatever their individual shortcomings may be.
“Whatever our weaknesses were last year, individually, we can build on that from an individual standpoint, put it together collectively and make a better team,” Jones said .
One area where every Bluejay could improve is on defense, Wragge noted.
“Obviously everyone says we’re an offensive team, so we need to improve on our defense. I think we can get some stuff figured out, some personnel changes, and just find who we are on defense and I think we will be fine,” Wragge said .
Heading into their respective junior and senior seasons, Wragge and Jones now find themselves on the more experienced side of the roster. With that comes certain added responsibilities, like making sure the younger guys aren’t spending too much time at the pool.
“I remember my freshman year, Chad Millard was the one calling me, texting me to make sure I was getting my stuff done. So, with Isaiah (Zierden) and Andre (Yates) getting in here, and we have a big sophomore class, it’s the older guy’s job to check up on them and make sure they aren’t messing up,” Wragge said .
Of the utmost importance to Wragge is making sure the team gets another first-hand taste of March Madness.
“I can’t explain how fun it was last year, and how much better basketball is when you get a season like that. I think all of us tasted it and we want to taste it again,” Wragge said .
— Vinny Benedetto, World-Herald staff writer