Creighton freshmen Andre Yates and Isaiah Zierden know their every move on the basketball court is being scrutinized.
First by the coaches, who break down the practice videotape and analyze what the two young guards are doing right and what needs to be fixed.
As important, Zierden and Yates know their new teammates are checking out their games. The freshmen arrived at Creighton with scholarships in their pockets but now they must prove that they belong there.
“You always want your teammates to trust you,” Zierden said. “That’s the most important thing. I want to go out there every day and have my teammates know that I can take care of the ball and knock down open shots when I get them.
“Right now, developing that trust is the biggest thing we must do.”
Like Zierden, Yates made his share of mistakes during the Bluejays’ opening week of practice. He also made some plays that elicited praise from his teammates and coaches.
“I was always taught that when people don’t say anything to you, that’s when you start worrying,” Yates said. “The guys and the coaches have been helping me along. When I do make mistakes, they’re telling me to keep my head up.
“They also tell me when I do something right. It makes you realize that listening to these guys actually helps.”
Creighton coach Greg McDermott used three words to characterize the opening-week practice performance of Zierden and Yates.
“They’re typical freshmen,” McDernott said.
In other words, the first week was a mix of good and bad. For every positive step the pair has made, there likely has been a step backward. The coaches are demanding that the two players learn on the fly to keep up with a mostly veteran team.
“For them, there have been good parts of practice and parts of practice where they’ve struggled,” McDermott said. “That’s part of being a freshman, part of the adjustment we’re asking them to make.”
The coaches are trying to accelerate the adjustment period in order to find out whether Zierden or Yates can fill one of the few needs the Bluejays have as they prepare for the coming season.
Creighton returns nine of its 10 regular rotation players from a team that won 29 games last season. The one player not returning is Antoine Young, a three-year starter at point guard.
Austin Chatman is penciled in to take over for Young, but the coaches must find someone to back up the sophomore. McDermott has a couple of veterans that could fill that bill, but he wants to take a long look at the two freshmen to determine whether one of them could handle the assignment.
Yates, who led his Dayton Dunbar team to an Ohio state championship last spring, is perhaps the more physically gifted of the two players. Zierden, son of an NBA assistant coach, might be the steadier of the pair.
Given that the backup point guard might play only 10 minutes or so per game, the question facing McDermott and his staff is whether they would want to go with a high risk-reward player (Yates) or with a player that might be short on sizzle but long on substance (Zierden).
“We need stability and predictability from the backup point guard position,” McDermott said. “I’d like to know what’s going to happen when that guy is out there. Unfortunately, those aren’t two adjectives that you normally use to describe freshmen.
“We’ll factor everything into our decision. They’re going to be getting some reps over the course of practice. We’ll also take at looks at Jahenns and Grant there.”
Jahenns Manigat was Young’s backup at the point two seasons ago, while Grant Gibbs brings point-guard skills to whatever position he plays.
Yates, who averaged 14.6 points, 3.0 assists and 2.9 steals per game as a senior, is a threat in the open floor. He scored the winning basket in his team’s state championship victory by driving the length of the court in the final seconds.
“I’m feeling comfortable pushing the ball in transition here because that lends itself to the creativity I like to have with the ball,” Yates said. “As long as I don’t turn the ball over.
“The thing I’m really working on is getting more sound fundamentally on defense. And being a freshman, it’s kind of hard leading a team of upperclassmen, but Coach has really been harping on that, so I’m working on being a better vocal leader and that I can get the job done.”
It was Zierden’s shooting ability — he finished his high school career having made 46 percent of his shots from beyond the 3-point line and 90 percent from the free-throw line — that first attracted Creighton’s coaches. Since he’s been on campus, Zierden has convinced the staff that he’s more than a shooter.
“Offensively, I feel all right,” said Zierden, who played at Benide-St. Margaret’s High School in St. Louis Park, Minn. “I don’t have a problem running at the 1 or the 2. I’m comfortable playing both, and I think I can help out at both spots.
“Where I’m struggling right now is knowing where I’m supposed to be when I’m in help defense. I’m adjusting, and when we had a day off, I looked over some things and I feel a little better about it.”
McDermott has said the Bluejays probably will play one of the freshmen and redshirt the other. Neither Zierden nor Yates has given much thought to that possibility because they’ve been so busy trying to grasp what’s been thrown at them in the first 11 days of practice.
“I’m just trying to do what I can,” Yates said. “Isaiah and I are roommates, and we haven’t talked about it one time. This is a big year for both of us. We want to come in and learn so that we can be ready when it’s our turn.
“We’re just trying to enjoy being here.”
Zierden agreed that the redshirt question is not one the roommates have even discussed, nor does it create any tensions.
“I think we’re both trying to focus on what we can do to help the team,” Zierden said. “I’ll do what I can, and then when I sit down with Coach, we’ll see where it goes from there.
“It’s something that could cause problems, but ’Dre and I are cool with it. We understand that it’s a business, and off the floor, we’re fine.”
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