A break in the schedule will allow Creighton basketball players to spend a little extra time at home for the holidays.
The Bluejays played their final pre-conference game last Wednesday, and don’t play again until Saturday’s Missouri Valley Conference opener against Evansville. Coach Greg McDermott allowed his players to head home after an early-morning practice Friday. They’ll regroup for a Christmas night practice.
Players on other Division I teams aren’t as fortunate, as many schools were in action during the weekend. Winter weather can also factor into the equation, as Northern Iowa had to delay a Saturday game until Sunday because it’s opponent, St. Mary’s, had difficulty getting to Cedar Falls because of last week’s snowstorm.
“The one thing kids don’t realize that they give up when they play Division I basketball is the holidays,” Creighton assistant Steve Merfeld said. “It’s so tough for them. I can’t imagine being 18 to 22 years old and not being with family at Christmas time.”
Jahenns Manigat can.
For the third straight Christmas, Manigat will spend the holidays in Omaha rather than trying to get back home to Canada for a brief visit. Teammate Gregory Echenique also doesn’t return to his native Venezuela for the holidays but his parents, Jose and Maria, usually make an extended visit to Omaha this time of the year.
When he’s not with them, Echenique usually can be found hanging out with Manigat. Former Bluejay Darryl Ashford also used to be part of the group as he didn’t travel back home for the holidays.
“The three of us made a habit of hanging out together, playing video games, going out to eat or to the mall,” Manigat said. “We always made sure that no one is alone and that someone always has someone to hang out with.
“It’s really fun, actually. It’s a great time to kick back, relax and enjoy time with some of your best friends.”
Of course, Manigat would like to be around his family for the holidays but shorter holiday breaks his first two years as a Bluejay kept Manigat in Omaha. Even with this year’s longer period off, Manigat said, it just doesn’t make sense for him to try to get back to Ottawa.
“Even though we have 10 days off between games, we still have to be back here on Christmas Day,” he said. “There’s really no point with me flying across the border, going through security and all that stuff, just for 2½ or three days.
“When you look at it that way, it makes sense to stay here. And everyone makes me feel like home this time of year. I’m thankful for that and I appreciate that.”
A year ago, Manigat spent Christmas Eve with Merfeld’s family and Christmas Day with the McDermotts. This year, he’ll spend Christmas Day with the Merfelds.
“If you can’t be with family, the next best thing is for them to be with their extended family, and that’s who we are,” Merfeld said. “The great thing about it is that there is not a guy on this team that wouldn’t be invited to any of the coaches’ homes.
“It’s a wonderful group of men. Jahenns will spend some time with us and hopefully get some sense of family, Christmas and the holidays through a good meal, some rest and some laughter.”
Manigat said his family sends presents through the mail, and technology, such as Skype, allows him to personally stay in touch with folks back home.
“It’s not as depressing as it seems,” he said. “We have a great coaching staff and they always make me feel welcome in their homes. Guys on the team are always inviting me to their places. If I really feel down, I know I have options. I never feel like I’m alone.
“If you just sit there and think about how much you miss home and your family, it’s really going to take its toll on you. I miss the people back home a ton, but I’m here for a reason, and they understand that.”
McDermott said it’s important for his players to know that there are places to go during the holidays to get a taste of home.
“You want to make sure they feel like they’re around family,” McDermott said. “Generally speaking, we have some coaches that don’t go anywhere for the holidays. We make sure players know that they’re not by themselves and that they can possibly enjoy some of the traditions our families have.”
NCAA rules allow coaches to provide a meal for the players but no presents.
“So I can’t give them a Lexus,” McDermott said with a laugh. “Only Doug can get one of those.”
That’s one advantage of being the coach’s kid at the holidays.
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