Devin Brooks and James Milliken figure to get a crash course in chemistry this fall from their Creighton basketball teammates.
The junior college transfers appear to have the skills to make an impact this season. Getting them up to speed, though, requires more than just teaching them the plays on offense or the proper footwork on defense.
“One of our jobs as a team is to bring those guys in to our style and our togetherness and all the things we've built this program on,” guard Grant Gibbs said. “It's all about integrating those guys into our system.”
The 6-foot-2 Brooks, a New York City native, comes from Iowa Western Community College. He averaged 15.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists last season while helping the Reivers reach the quarterfinals of the national junior-college tournament.
The 6-2 Milliken, from Siler City, N.C., averaged 18.4 points and shot 42.2 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore at Cowley County (Kan.) Community College. He earned first-team all-conference and all-region honors and was ranked the 39th-best prospect by Jucorecruiting.com.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott said both players have some catching up to do. Brooks didn't participate in the team's summer workout program while cleaning up academic issues. Milliken was able to take part in the second half of the program.
“They have a lot to learn in a short period of time,” McDermott said. “At the same time, they've both got some experience and have been a part of successful programs. It's a matter of them staying focused and working hard to get themselves ready.”
Creighton starts full-scale practices in less than a month. The players are going through two hours of individual workouts with coaches in addition to hitting the weights four times each week.
They're also playing pickup games several times a week, and Gibbs likes what he's seen.
“We're excited about having James and Devin on the team because they give us a dynamic that we didn't have last year,” Gibbs said. “In fact, we haven't had two guys like them since I've been here.
“There has to be give and take on both ends. We have to do everything we can to integrate them into our system. It's on them as well to become one of us and play our system while still showcasing their skills.”
At first glance, Milliken seems to have already adapted his game. During a recent pickup session, he looked for his shots within the context of the offense. He knocked down some 3-pointers but didn't try to force things.
“He's sneaky athletic, and he has a really good pace to his game,” Gibbs said. “I think he's going to be able to blend in well with what we do. Since the first day he got here, he didn't have as many of those perceived juco characteristics that some guys do.”
Fair or not, junior college players are sometimes perceived to be more apt to freelance on offense or play with less discipline on defense.
“My junior college team was real solid with a lot of Division I athletes,” Milliken said. “I didn't have to be the kind of player that tried to do it all. I could play within my team, and I think that's going to make me a lot better here. I think I'm coming into a natural spot for me.”
Brooks, on the other hand, plays with a swagger. During that pickup session, he swiped a pass and raced upcourt on a three-on-one break that ended with a no-look pass to a teammate for a layup. On the next possession, Brooks dribbled twice between his legs, then fired up an off-balance shot that hit high off the backboard and bounced harmlessly away.
“Devin is definitely a juco guard,” Gibbs said. “He's got that shake and bake to him, but he can do a lot of stuff that, a year ago, we didn't have anyone that could do it.
“This is going to be an adjustment for him, and we've talked a lot about our style of play. I will tell you this: he's very willing to learn and adjust to that style. We just need to help him with that adjustment.”
One of Milliken's goals is to make sure he's able to operate at full speed once practice begins in earnest.
“I don't want them to have to be stopping and going over things for me once we get started,” he said. “I want to try to fit in perfectly with this team. One of the things I've learned since I've been here is that everyone pays a lot more attention to detail.
“You can't get away with as much stuff as you could in junior-college ball. Everything is more intense.”
Brooks and Milliken are excited about stepping up to Division I and having a chance to play in the new Big East.
“I've never had a chance to face competition like we're going to be playing,” Milliken said.
The transition comes with a bonus for Brooks, who grew up in Harlem. Asked what he is most excited about as he looks ahead to the next two seasons, Brooks emphatically replied, “Big East. Two words. Big East, all in bold letters.”
When he committed, Brooks said, he would have seriously considered Creighton even if the Bluejays weren't headed for the new conference.
“But I don't know if I'd be enjoying the moment as much as I'm enjoying it now,” he said. “I'm having a good time, but it's going to be even better when I get to go back home and play in front of my family.”