Having cleared the first big hurdle of their college basketball careers, Zach Hanson, Darian Harris and Toby Hegner will return to practice Monday hoping to take some more steps forward.
The three Creighton scholarship freshmen survived 11 grueling workouts that the Bluejays squeezed into eight days during fall break.
“It's probably the toughest week I've ever had,” said Hanson, a 6-foot-9 center from Pierre, S.D.
Hegner and Harris agreed they were taxed physically and mentally by what Creighton's veterans refer to as “the grind.” In addition to the on-court workouts, the fall-break schedule included film sessions and reviews.
“I think having the whole week off was good because we got to focus on basketball, go back to our rooms and learn plays and focus on the stuff we needed to,” Hegner said. “Also, with not having classes, everyone hung out and we got to know each other even better.”
Creighton coach Greg McDermott said the three players struggled at times during the week.
“They'd have one good day and a couple of bad ones, and that's just part of it,” McDermott said. “They were taxed physically, and their minds are jumbled because of everything new that we threw at them.
“When you're thinking all the time, your feet don't move as fast. They'll get a little more comfortable every day now.”
With the season opener against Alcorn State less than three weeks away, McDermott and the players know each practice will help determine their status for the coming season.
McDermott likes to delay decisions about redshirting as long as possible. He said as much to the freshmen when they met late last week.
“We'll talk about it as we get a little closer to Nov. 1,” the coach said. “Part of it is I want them to prepare to play so that if something were to happen between now and then their mindset is where I want it to be.”
The players say they appreciate that patience.
|BLUEJAYS TODAY ON FACEBOOK|
|Join the conversation on the Bluejays Today Facebook page.|
“He definitely wants you to keep competing,” said Hegner, a 6-9 forward from Berlin, Wis. “Every time you come out on the floor, he wants you competing 110 percent to see where that gets you. Then, when the time comes, he's going to make a decision that's best for the team.”
Hegner said he's already thought about sitting out this season to get stronger and learn the Bluejays' system.
“In my mind, redshirting is not that bad an idea,” he said. “It's every freshman's dream to come out and play right away, but if my role is redshirting my first year, I'll do what's best for this team.”
Harris, a 6-5 guard from Springdale, Ark., might benefit from a redshirt season in his attempt to continue adding size and strength. He's been on a 5,000-calorie diet since the spring that has helped him add about 20 pounds.
“I know I have to continue getting stronger and more physical,” said Harris, who is pushing 200 pounds. “I can't get pushed around if I'm going to cut it here.”
Of the three players, Hanson probably stands the best chance of avoiding a redshirt season partly because of Creighton's need at his position. The Bluejays must replace 6-9, 270-pound Gregory Echenique at center.
Hanson, named South Dakota's Mr. Basketball after leading T.F. Riggs High School to a state championship last season, is competing against junior Will Artino and sophomore Geoffrey Groselle for playing time.
“At this point, I'm just trying to get everything down right and do what the coaches want me to do,” Hanson said. “I need to get my level of intensity to a level where it hasn't been before.
“To do well and to earn what I want, I know that I have to play a lot harder than I am right now.”
All three players said they're starting to play more and think less on the court.
“They've thrown a lot of stuff at us, and it takes time to get it right,” Hegner said. “At the beginning, you're always thinking about what you have to do and where you have to be, but it starts to come natural to you after a couple of weeks.
“I'm getting to the point where I can just play basketball.”
Harris, too, said his comfort is growing with every practice.
“With all the repetitions on defense and learning the plays, I'm starting to adjust and do my thing a little bit better while still doing what the coaches want,” he said. “I think I've improved a lot in that area.”
Perhaps the biggest adjustment for each player has been in mastering the defensive techniques. The Bluejays have spent a lot of time working on defensive help and rotations. Veterans and rookies alike have felt the coaches' heat when they have been slightly out of position.
In high school, Harris said, he could afford to “get away with some things” because opponents weren't as skilled.
“Here, if you're not in the right gap at the right time, it could be the ballgame,” he said. “You can't afford to take any possessions off.”