The five players Creighton will honor Saturday on Senior Day bring a variety of skills and talents to the basketball court.
They are bound by their unselfishness, a trait that sometimes gets pushed to the side in the me-first times in which we live. The poster boy of that unselfishness is an Omahan whose commitment is as unquestioned as his playing time is limited.
Taylor Stormberg's basketball career didn't turn out quite the way he might have envisioned, but the guard wouldn't trade the experience for the world.
“I wouldn't take these four years back for anything,” Stormberg said. “I've had an experience of a lifetime. Even with all the hard work and pain, it most certainly has been worth it. Even the worst day here is the best day anywhere else.”
Stormberg will join Grant Gibbs, Gregory Echenique, Josh Jones and Joe Kelling for a final bow in front of home fans after Saturday's Missouri Valley Conference showdown against Wichita State. If things work out right, they'll exit as champions.
Perhaps no one can appreciate that more than Stormberg, who joined the program four years ago as a walk-on. The Bluejays lost almost as many games as the 18 they won that season in Dana Altman's final year as coach.
“I've seen the lows of the low and the highs of the high,” Stormberg said. “What made that first year even tougher was seeing some of the guys on that team take their opportunity for granted. But at the end of the day, I knew if I kept working hard that I would be better the next year.”
All of Stormberg's hard work has never put him in a position to play the kind of role Gibbs or Echenique has the past two seasons. Or the one Jones did before a heart issue forced him to give up basketball earlier this season.
But it has left him with the respect of his teammates and coaches.
“Guys like Taylor and Joe put their heart and soul into this program,” Doug McDermott said. “They don't get a lot of playing time on the floor, but what they do means a lot. They get us prepared for every single game.”
Kelling joined the team this season as a senior walk-on to provide the scout team with another player for practice. Growing up in Kansas City, Kelling played four sports in high school and was good enough in basketball to get a walk-on offer from a Division I school.
He turned it down to come to Creighton to study medicine. He spent his first three years as a student, then traded his front-row seat in the student section at CenturyLink Center for a practice jersey.
“Going to every game, I realized just how much I missed playing basketball,” Kelling said. “When this opportunity arose, I said, 'Why not?' There have been times this year when I wondered if this was really worth it.
“There were times when I would have liked to have the time to study for a test I had the next day but instead I'm at practice for three hours. But someday I'm going to get to tell my kids I played Division I basketball, and that I had the honor to play for this team.”
His only regret?
“My dad never got to see me play college basketball,” Kelling said. “He was one of my coaches growing up, but he passed away a couple of years ago. I would have liked for him to have seen me doing this.”
Kelling has played 15 minutes in nine games this season, scoring four points. Stormberg's 51 minutes have been spread over 20 games, bringing his total playing time for the past three seasons to 124 minutes. He's scored five points this season and 18 in his career.
Stormberg used to get that in one game at Omaha Creighton Prep, where he was a second-team all-stater as a senior. He could have picked another college where he could have played more but decided to take his chances as a walk-on for the Bluejays.
He takes pride in contributions that largely have gone unseen the past four seasons.
“You understand that Coach asks you to play a role for this team and it's up to you to step up and play that role,” Stormberg said. “It doesn't matter if that role is on the scout team or being one of the guys on the floor during games.
“You have to have a lot of humility and persistence because it's not easy. As a player, you want to be out there giving it everything you have. But you know that your time is on the practice floor. That's when you give it everything you have.”
That's when you earn respect.
“Taylor's commitment level to this team is unquestioned,” coach Greg McDermott said. “He's brought a positive attitude to practice every day and he's been willing to play whatever role we've asked him to play.”
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