Will Artino rested on a table in the Creighton training room, his left ankle inclined and encased in a half boot connected to a machine.
“You should have been in here a little earlier,” Artino said. “They pushed all the swelling from my ankle up into my lower leg. I don’t know how loud I was yelling, but I’m sure it was pretty loud.”
Artino is two days out from an ankle sprain that looked more serious when he went down near the start of Wednesday’s workout. He has spent nearly every waking hour getting the ankle treated, and it felt good enough Friday that he did some furious pedaling on a stationary bicycle and some exercises under the watchful eyes of Creighton trainers.
If things continue to go well, the 6-foot-11 sophomore is expected to return to practice Monday. That’s when the Bluejays will start serious preparations for next week’s opening game of the NCAA tournament.
“It’s probably better than we originally thought it would be,” coach Greg McDermott said. “Hopefully he can resume practicing on Monday. Initially, we thought it was going to be much worse.”
An MRI test indicated Artino suffered a grade-2 sprain. It felt worse when it happened, Artino said, not because of the pain but because of what it might potentially mean for him and the Bluejays.
“My first thought was, ‘Am I going to be able to play?’” Artino said. “This is the worst time of the year for something like this to happen. Maybe that’s why I reacted like I did, because I was thinking about not being able to be out there with the guys.”
Artino has emerged the past six weeks as a valuable member of Creighton’s rotation. He was averaging 7.3 minutes, 3.1 points and 2.1 rebounds in playing in 21 of the Bluejays’ first 24 games.
In the last 10, starting with a 13-point performance in 10 minutes Feb. 6 at Indiana State, Artino has averaged 10.7 minutes, 6.5 points and 3.7 rebounds. He has played double-digit minutes in six of those 10 games while scoring 10 or more points in four contests.
Consistency has been the difference, McDermott said, in transforming Artino from a pine-time player to one who is getting plenty of prime-time minutes now.
“Will has always shown flashes, but he’s lacked consistency,” McDermott said. “During that stretch in February, when we weren’t playing well, he was one of the few bright spots. He carried that into the tournament.”
Artino scored a season-high 14 points in Creighton’s opening win against Drake at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. He played 14 minutes against the Bulldogs and backed that up with 14 more in the semifinal victory over Evansville.
He played four minutes in the championship game against Wichita State, but that partly was due to how well starting center Gregory Echenique played against the Shockers.
“It’s been like everything has just clicked,” Artino said. “There were a few games when there was some foul trouble, and I was able to get some consistent minutes. That led to Coach Mac having more faith in me, and that gave me more faith in myself.
“I started to be able to do the things he’s been telling me I could do since I got here.”
McDermott constantly reminds his players that they must be prepared when opportunity comes their way. Artino embraced that philosophy by continuing to work hard in practice even when he wasn’t playing much.
He didn’t get off the bench in two early Valley games. Instead of pouting, he kept banging away in practice against Echenique and then started producing once he got a chance in games.
Artino’s play not only has provided a strong ending to this season but has also raised hopes that he’ll be able to step in next season when Echenique is gone. There’s still going to be plenty of work to do, but he’ll approach it with a little extra zip in his step.
“I need to keep getting stronger and become an even more consistent outside shooter,” Artino said. “And a lot of what I need to do is add weight so that I don’t get pushed around down in the paint, especially when I get tired.”
Artino weighed 187 pounds when he came to Creighton in June 2010. He’s gotten up to as much as 232 pounds, and now is at 225 after dropping to 215 at one point during the year.
He said he would like to get his weight up to around 240 or 245, which would leave him looking hulkish compared to when he stepped on campus.
“It’s weird when I look back at pictures in high school, before I could grow facial hair and I was so skinny,” Artino said. “I tell people my biceps were as big as my wrists are now — not that my biceps are that big now.
“It’s fun to look back at the development I’ve made through the strength training and seeing it all pay off and knowing that I have two years left here to go even further.”
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