It became apparent early last season that Greg McDermott didn't inherit a great passing team in his first season at Creighton.
The Bluejays had problems getting the basketball from the perimeter to the post. When they did, their post players had trouble getting it back out when double-teamed.
When asked last December how a team can improve its passing, McDermott replied, "Recruit."
That's the long-term solution; what about this season? Is there any hope that Creighton can turn into a fancy passing team in its bid to win the Missouri Valley Conference championship and return to the NCAA tournament?
McDermott believes that his team can improve in that aspect, and he's banking on three new players — two of whom were already in the program — to help get the job done.
Guard Grant Gibbs and center Will Artino redshirted last season, spending their time working with the scout team and impressing the coaches with their passing.
The coaches also have been impressed with freshman Austin Chatman since he joined the program in the summer.
"I think with some of the additions to our team, we've become a better passing team," McDermott said. "Will is a better passer from the front line, Grant is an outstanding passer and Austin passes the ball extremely well."
Chatman is expected to back up Antoine Young at the point, while the 6-foot-11 Artino figures in the frontcourt rotation. Gibbs, a transfer from Gonzaga, is competing for the starting spot at shooting guard.
The 6-4 Gibbs, a point guard in high school, takes pride in his ability to deliver the ball to teammates.
"I've always played with a pass-first mentality," he said.
During Creighton's summer trip to the Bahamas, Gibbs compiled an almost 6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. In his one season at Gonzaga, he averaged almost an assist per game in playing an average of 9.3 minutes.
Gibbs learned early in his career that the best pass is not always the fancy pass.
"If you watch the NBA, you see guys always trying to make the flashy assist," Gibbs said. "That's not the important pass. The important pass is the pass that leads to the pass that gets the ball to somebody in position where they can be successful.
"It's not always about the 'SportsCenter' top-10 assist. It's about making the easy, simple passes that makes the game work."
Having players that possess a good understanding of the game is important, McDermott said.
"We work a lot on passing," he said. "The first step in being a good passer is making sure you look where you're supposed to look. You also can work on the fundamentals it takes to become a good passer.
"But, like a lot in basketball, a lot of passing comes down to feel. That's the difficult part to teach. A lot of times, guys either have it or they don't. A guy like Grant Gibbs has it. Austin Chatman has it. Will Artino has it."
Others, such as big men Gregory Echenique, Doug McDermott and Geoff Groselle, have to work at it. They probably weren't asked to pass a lot in high school.
"But with that the high-low pass is a big part of offense, it's important that they get better at it," the coach said. "And the guards that are going to play had better be able to feed the post or they know they probably won't be playing."
Young, who led the Valley in assists last season, has seen an overall improvement in the Bluejays' passing in the offseason, particularly from the team's big men.
"Will sees the floor and has an awesome feel for the game," Young said. "Doug and Greg, having played overseas during the summer, have a better feel for the game.
"When you have bigs that can pass, that makes it a lot easier for the guards up on top as far as taking care the ball and finding easy shots."
Together, that can make the difference between a team reaching its goals or falling short.
"I think passing can make all the difference in the world," Gibbs said. "It's my favorite part of the game and I put a lot of emphasis into it. Passing can be a difference in a season.
"Last year we didn't pass the ball well enough as a team, and it was little things. It's not throwing it to the right hand when you're passing into the post or getting into the lane and kicking it out to the right guy. That's the difference between misses and makes, wins and losses."
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