Reigning Missouri Valley Conference defensive player of the year Gregory Echenique might not need much help clogging the paint, redirecting shots and collecting rebounds next season, but he might get it anyway.
When the pink-shoed Venezuelan needed a breather or found himself in foul trouble last season, coach Greg McDermott had few options to turn to. Either Will Artino, then a redshirt freshman, would do his best to provide relief or Doug McDermott would shift to center, where he is outsized.
This season, the elder McDermott will have to make the same decision, but he will have bigger, more reassuring options. Artino returns as the established back-up at center after averaging over three points and two rebounds in a little more than seven minutes per game a year ago. Now standing beside him is Creighton’s first seven-footer since Bill O’Dowd left in the early 90s — Geoff Groselle. The 7-foot Texan hopes to use his size and skill to carve out his own slice of the playing-time pie after redshirting last season.
Unfortunately for Artino and Groselle, the graduation of Matthew Dorwart, the only post player to depart from a season ago, doesn’t open up a substantial amount of playing time as nearly all of his minutes came in the closing of lopsided games. Without an abundance of court time opening, it might seem natural for the young Bluejays centers to be displeased with their reserve roles. But in interviews following Metro Summer Basketball League games, both seemed to accept their not-so-glorious roles.
“Starting off, (I’ll be) backing up Greg, and doing whatever I can to help the team,” said Groselle.
Artino also acknowledged the assumption that Echenique would be the starter, but added another scenario.
“I’m hoping to get some time at the four (power forward) with improving my jump shot and stuff. Doing whatever Coach Mac asks me to do is what my role will be,” the 6-foot-11 Iowa native said.
Although Artino didn’t attempt a single three-pointer last season, he showed comfort on the perimeter in summer league games and later mentioned that extending his range to the 3-point line has been one of his most-practiced skills.
While waiting another year before a chance to start emerges for either of the two young centers, they believe their presence will help the post play take another step from where it was last season.
“I think we are going to improve a lot defensively. You know, that’s a main focus since we were so atrocious last year on defense. That (added depth) is going to help us a lot,” said Groselle.
Artino was more specific on how he hopes the added depth will increase the post players’ contributions.
“It’s just getting more stops, grabbing more rebounds, not relying on so many guards to get as many rebounds and providing a little more offense inside so our shooters can get better looks.”
While Artino or Groselle will not likely start over Echenique, they appear to have the size, skill and intangibles to help contribute to a frontcourt that was highly celebrated a year ago. This season, when coach McDermott is looking down the bench to replace his man in the middle, he may actually be looking up.
— Vinny Benedetto