Isaiah Zierden can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The days of running opponents' plays with the Creighton scout team are almost over for the redshirt freshman. It won't be long before Zierden is going to be counted on to make contributions to next season's team.
“It's been a little bit of a struggle,” he said, “but I just keep thinking about next year and how I'll have a chance to help the team.”
Zierden show up on campus last June hoping he didn't have to redshirt his first year. But 10 months later, he can see the benefits that have come from sitting out this season.
He's been able to work on improving his strength and quickness. He's been able to learn techniques that will make him a better defender. His work on the scout team also has given him a chance to show that he's more than a shooter.
That skill is what led Creighton's coaches to offer a scholarship to the 6-foot-2 guard from St. Louis Park, Minn. He shot 46 percent from beyond the arc in high school and finished second in a nationally televised 3-point shooting contest held before last season's Final Four.
“I don't get to do as much shooting when I'm running with the scout team,” Zierden said. “It's more driving, and I think I've shown that I've improve my quickness off the dribble. I think it's allowed the coaches to see that I can do other things than just shoot the basketball.”
Creighton coach Greg McDermott has liked what he's seen from Zierden, who was one of two scholarship freshmen to join the program this season. The other, Andre Yates, has played in 26 of the 34 games for a Creighton team that will finish the season in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. Yates has averaged 5.5 minutes and 1.2 points.
“Isaiah has been banged up with some injuries during the year but he's continued to show progress,” McDermott said. “Like most freshmen, his biggest strides have to take place on the defensive end of the floor, and that ultimately will determine when he's ready to help us.
“But this year has allowed him to get better. He's been able to build up his body a little bit. There's still room for growth. He's also made some strides in improving his lateral quickness, but there are still gains to be made there.”
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McDermott said there are areas in which Zierden could have provided the Bluejays with some immediate help.
“He has a great feel for the game,” McDermott said, “and that had us thinking about pulling his redshirt when Josh went down.”
Creighton lost Josh Jones after the season's first eight games when a heart issue forced the senior guard to give up basketball.
“Isaiah and I talked about pulling his redshirt, but when you're in that situation, about nine or 10 games into the season, it had to be his call,” McDermott said. “And I'm not sure that if he and his family had been willing to do it that I would have pulled the trigger or not.
“He was behind for obvious reasons, running the scout team stuff instead of running on offense. Isaiah just felt like he was making good strides as a redshirt and he wanted to continue on that path.”
In hindsight, Zierden's decision proved to be the right one. He suffered a series of nagging injuries in late December and early January that forced him to miss practice time and would have made playing catch-up even more difficult.
“Looking back, it was definitely the right decision,” Zierden said. “I ended up getting nicked up and missed some practice time, and I wouldn't have been able to play right away.
“Still, it was a tough decision because you always want to play. But we already had played a lot of games, and I didn't know if I wanted to miss all those (games) and play the rest of the year or just wait until next year and come prepared to play. It came down to wanting to get better for next year.”
Overall, the redshirt experience might have been a little tougher than Zierden expected it to be, showing up daily for practices without the reward of playing time. It wears on a player mentally, but Zierden said staying focused on the future allowed him to deal with the present.
“What really helped me get through the lulls you go through was the fans,” he said. “I'd come to the games and think about what it's going to be like when I finally get my chance to play in front of them.
“And my team helped, too. I love my teammates and I want to do everything I can to be ready when I get my chance.”
McDermott named district player of year
The United States Basketball Writers Association has named Creighton forward Doug McDermott its District VI player of the year.
He is the first Creighton player honored as a district player of the year since Kyle Korver in 2003.
The USBWA has nine districts nationwide. District VI consists of the states of Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
His selection as a player of the year puts him into prime consideration for first-team All-America honors. He also is a finalist for the USBWA's Oscar Robertson Trophy, which is awarded to the player of the year.
The all-district team also includes Markel Brown and Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State, Will Clyburn of Iowa State, Rodney McGruder of Kansas State, Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore of Kansas, Romero Osby of Oklahoma, Phil Pressey of Missouri and Nate Wolters of South Dakota State.
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