Eight inches ago, Ronnie Harrell was a scrawny freshman point guard on the Denver East High School basketball team.
Still on the slender side, Harrell has sprouted into a 6-foot-6 dead-eye shooter capable of lighting it up from anywhere on the court.
“He’s the best perimeter shooter I’ve had in 35 years of coaching,” Denver East coach Rudy Carey said. “He has NBA range, and he shoots it effortlessly.”
He’ll be shooting it for Creighton as a collegian. The day after returning from his recruiting visiting to Omaha, Harrell called Bluejays coach Greg McDermott to accept Creighton’s scholarship offer.
“When I got on that plane Sunday to come home, I just had this feeling like Creighton was it,” Harrell said in a Monday night telephone interview. “I thought about it last night, and I just had this gut feeling that I had found the school for me.”
The 170-pound Harrell became the second player to commit to Creighton’s 2014 recruiting class. Leon Gilmore, a 6-foot-7 forward from Texas, announced last week that he intended to become a Bluejay.
Creighton hadn’t started recruiting Harrell until July but McDermott and his coaches made a solid impression on him.
“And then I did my research,” he said, “and I liked what I saw.”
Harrell reportedly had scholarship offers from about 10 schools, and he had visited Purdue in early September. He originally intended to visit Kansas State in mid-October but Monday’s decision changed that.
“Creighton wasn’t Ronnie’s No. 1 choice,” Carey said, “but coach McDermott and his staff really did a good job on selling him on the school.”
Harrell is considered a three-star prospect by several recruiting services. He averaged 13.0 points and 1.7 assists last season as a junior while shooting 34 percent from 3-point range.
Harrell is a solid passer and handles the ball well, Carey said. He added that Harrell’s skills should fit in well with Creighton’s up-tempo style of play.
“The knock on him right now is his weight,” Carey said, “but they’ll get him in the weight room and take care of that. He’s not polished by any means and has a lot of work to do, but when he reaches his potential, I have no doubts he’ll be a good player for them.”
Harrell said he’s already begun the beefing-up process.
“I know I have to get stronger,’’ he said. “I’ll get in the weight room. Once I get stronger, I think that’s going to help me become more athletic on defense.’’
His versatility on offense should provide Creighton’s coaches with plenty of options. Harrell said McDermott told him that he could play anywhere from the point to the small forward spot in Creighton’s system.
“Even though I’ve grown, I’ve kept my point-guard skills,” Harrell said. “I still really like distributing the ball.”
Harrell got a chance to play with many of his future teammates during a Friday afternoon workout.
“The guys were just great,” he said. “They treated me like I was one of them. I didn’t want to leave on Sunday because those guys made Creighton feel just like home to me.
“It was like I had known all those guys for years, even though I just met them.”
Other factors Harrell said that influenced his decision was Creighton’s fan base, the coaching staff and the team’s style of play.
“I’m definitely glad to get the decision over with,” he said. “It’s a stressful process. It’s fun to look back at it and think that you got to talk to this coach or that one.
“But it’s a relief when you know in your heart that you’ve found the right school.”
McDermott stressing defense
Creighton focused on defensive fundamentals during Monday’s second preseason practice.
The two-plus-hour session at the Vinardi Center left many of the Bluejays’ newcomers looking dazed and confused at times. At one point, Creighton coach Greg McDermott told one of the new players, “If you can’t guard, you’re not going to play.’’
McDermott said the early confusion is to be expected.
“We threw a lot of stuff at them today,’’ he said. “We’re trying to get as much in as we can, and we’re really stressing the defensive end at this point. They’ll get better the more we do it.’’
Freshman forward Toby Hegner missed the workout after taking an elbow to the eye during Saturday’s first practice. McDermott said Hegner “had a little bit of a headache, and we held him out as a precaution.’’
Creighton will practice again on Wednesday before getting four days off.