Andre Yates recently came to the realization that the only person keeping him from playing more of a role with the Creighton basketball team was Andre Yates.
“Sometime, you just have to look at yourself in the mirror,’’ Yates said.
When he did, Yates didn’t like everything he was seeing.
“I saw myself making a lot of excuses,’’ the freshman point guard said. “I’m a freshman, but I can come out here and compete and play hard. That was the biggest thing.
“I just had to sit down and tell myself that every time I step on the court, I need to be ready to play to the best of my ability.’’
Yates’ self-evaluation led to a string of improved performances in practices. In turn, that helped get him on the court in each of the Bluejays’ past two games after he had not left the bench in four of the previous six.
Yates played 11 minutes in Sunday’s win over Southern Illinois, scoring a point and handing out three assists while not committing a turnover. In Wednsday’s victory over Missouri State, the 6-foot guard from Dayton, Ohio, played another 11 minutes, had an assist and a steal to go along with a point.
The numbers are hardly head-turners but they do indicate Yates might be headed in the right direction. He had played a total of 14 minutes and scored four points in Creighton’s first eight Missouri Valley games. Overall, Yates has averaged 5.9 minutes while playing in 16 games.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott said Yates’ opportunities in the past two games are a result of his improved performance in practice over the last week or so.
“His consistency has improved, and he’s shown an increase in being able to play through some adversity,’’ McDermott said. “How guys practice ultimately determine how much playing time they’re going to get. If they’re not doing it in practice, they’re probably not going to be doing it in games.
“I’m not a big believer in guys can just turn it on in games. Guys that consistently perform in practice, chances are they’re going to be able to help us in games. If they can’t, their minutes have to be pretty sparse.’’
Yates said he was well aware that was the standard that McDermott sets for all of his players. Yates determined he was falling short of meeting the coach’s benchmark when he evaluated himself.
“I was getting down about not playing, but I knew I had to come back to practice with a better attitude,’’ he said. “It was all about coming out and playing hard in every practice. You’re not going to play for coach Mac unless you’re playing hard.’’
Yates’ performance in preseason practice put him in position to skip a possible redshirt season. His quickness and playmaking ability were seen as assets. He came into the season expected to back up Austin Chatman at the point, and he played double-digit minutes in three of Creighton’s first four games.
His playing time started to decrease as the Bluejays faced a number of challenging non-conference games. Creighton needed to win those games to set itself up in March. That didn’t always allow McDermott an opportunity to get some of his younger players playing time.
At the same time, those players didn’t always help themselves, lacking the consistency in practice that builds trust with the coaching staff.
“Sometimes it takes a while for young guys to get that,’’ the coach said. “Some get it quicker than others. This is all a change. The level of intensity in practice is higher, the season is longer. You’d like to think that sooner or later, you’d get tired of not playing and do something about it.
“Some guys never get it. Playing time is a privilege, it’s not a right. You have to earn it.’’
Yates is intent on doing that. When playing time was scarce, Yates said, his teammates provided a lot of moral support.
“Everyone kept telling me to keep my head up,’’ he said.
He did, and when he looked into that mirror, he realized what he had to do.
“Getting this chance means a lot to me,’’ Yates said. “It shows that if I work hard and do what I’m asked to do, coach Mac and the staff will give me a chance. That’s only a plus for a young guy like me.
“I’m trying to be a sponge in practice and do whatever I can to get out there and help the team.’’