A part of Greg McDermott longs for the good ol' days when the second Friday in October got the blood of college basketball coaches and players pumping a little quicker.
That day traditionally has been when college teams could officially begin practice for the coming season. It still is, but its significance has been diluted, the Creighton coach said, because of rule changes that allow coaches and players limited contact in the summer and in the days leading up to the first official practice.
“There used to be such anticipation, almost a nervous energy,” McDermott said. “We've lost a little bit of that with the rule changes but I still think the benefits of the changes far outweigh the negatives.”
Not all of the anticipation has been lost, though. The drills that McDermott and his staff will put his players through during Friday's first official practice will differ little from the ones they did Thursday in a two-hour team workout.
“But you get that feeling that something is different tomorrow,” guard Grant Gibbs said. “New practice jerseys, everyone is here. During fall workouts, some of the coaches would be recruiting. Now, everyone is here.
“Even though what we'll be doing is similar, you still have that feeling in your stomach and you know we're back at it. This is for keeps.”
Speaking of that new practice gear, the Bluejays' apparel comes with the numbers “222” stamped on the front of their jerseys and the back on their shorts.
“A subtle reminder,” McDermott said, smiling.
Creighton tied the school record for wins with 29 last season and made it back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007. The Bluejays did that despite finishing 222nd nationally in field-goal percentage defense.
McDermott could have picked some other numbers, such as 242 (scoring defense standing) or 264 (3-point field goal percentage defense ranking), to illustrate his point that the Bluejays need to improve their defense.
As it is, 222 achieves the desired impact.
“The coaches have done a good job all summer preaching about our need to get better on defense,” guard Jahenns Manigat said. “For us to see it (222) every single day when we're practicing, it's going to make us hungrier to get better on the defensive side of the ball.
“We don't need to improve tremendously. If we can make some fine improvements here and there on defense, and if we can keep our potent offense going, we could have a better year than we did last year.”
Creighton finished second nationally in field-goal percentage and assists, third in 3-point percentage and ninth in scoring last season. The Bluejays must compensate for the loss of three-year starting point guard Antoine Young but return the rest of the offensive firepower.
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That's why the focus of the early practices will be on defense. The Bluejays spent about 75 percent of Thursday's workout drilling on defense. By the end of the first week, which will include a number of two-a-day practices, the players will likely have had their fill of close-out drills.
“Doing those drills over and over can only help,” Manigat said. “Especially when we're going to be extremely tired and fatigued, we know we still have to be very, very good at doing the things that make us better defensively.”
Gibbs is interested in seeing how quickly the players can pull together all the different defensive components they've been working on in the offseason.
“The one thing the coaches have preached to us from day one is that while we might not be the most gifted group athletically, we can still do well on team defense,” Gibbs said. “That's something everyone has to buy into collectively.
“It's all about being in the right place and communication. A lot of the things we've worked on this fall has been in smaller group. Now, it's time to bring all those concepts together in a five-on-five basketball game.”
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