Will Artino knows his responsibility in the coming days is stepping up to the challenge his Creighton coaches have put on the table.
Artino is the 6-foot-11 junior from Waukee, Iowa, who is battling sophomore Geoffrey Groselle and true freshman Zach Hanson for time at center. Artino has something that neither of the other two possess, and that's a dose of experience.
With the Bluejays' season opener less than three weeks away, Creighton coach Greg McDermott and Steve Merfeld, the program's director of basketball development, each chatted with Artino on Monday.
“My challenge to him is that at some point he needs to separate himself as the upperclassman in that group,” McDermott said. “He needs to show that consistency, and I believe he's ready to do that.”
Overall, McDermott said Artino has had a solid preseason. He performed well in the first 10 practices, hit a bit of a lull but has rebounded with several good efforts in recent workouts.
Continuing to string plus practices together is important, Artino said.
“One of the things the coaches told me is that they want me to get back to playing my game and not trying to force stuff,” Artino said. “A lot of my game is playing with energy.”
Artino has played in 67 of Creighton's 71 games the past two seasons in backing up Gregory Echenique. Echenique is the only starter not returning from the team that won 28 games last season and made it to the third round of the NCAA tournament.
In some ways, Artino's situation is similar to what point guard Austin Chatman faced a year ago. Creighton also lost just one starter off its 2012 NCAA tournament team in guard Antoine Young.
Chatman had been Young's backup as a freshman and took over the point last season. Chatman's play was well-scrutinized by fans, and Artino figures his will be, too.
“The center position is the only one we're losing, with everybody back after two good years,” he said. “That makes for some pressure, but I'm not trying to add any to myself.”
Echenique's strength was on defense, where for three seasons he gave Creighton the luxury of being able to play opposing centers one-on-one. He was also a strong rebounder and had moments when he was a solid contributor on offense, although he was not among the Bluejays' primary offensive options.
Artino has the potential to be more of a contributor on the offensive end, and not just as a scorer. For a big man, he is a slick passer and runs the floor well. In his two seasons as a Bluejay, the left-handed Artino has made 63.6 percent of his attempts from the field while playing just more than seven minutes per game.
“Will's offensive skills could be really important, especially when we have a guy like Doug (McDermott) on the floor with him that can post,” Greg McDermott said. “Will can make teams pay for a switch on Doug with a smaller guy inside because Will is such a good passer.”
Greg McDermott's concern with Artino is his ability to hold up while playing against some of the bigger players Creighton will be facing in the Big East.
Artino has averaged a foul per two minutes played in his first two seasons.
“Part of the problem with the fouls is that I was coming in and trying to bring a spark,” Artino said. “I knew my minutes would be limited due to Gregory, and I'd come in and try to make a play.
“This year, I think I'll stay away from the dumb foul because I know it'll hurt the team more this year than it did last year. A lot of my game has to be quickness and agility and just playing a lot smarter.”
Artino has added about 45 pounds since coming into the program weighing 185 as a freshman. He said he knows it will be important for him to maintain his weight at about 230 pounds in order to hold up against the players in the Big East.
“I just don't know if his body type is ever going to carry much more,” McDermott said. “He has done just about everything we've asked him to do (to put on weight) these last 3 ½ years.”
Bluejay Madness is Friday
Creighton will hold its annual Bluejay Madness on Friday night to allow fans to get a preseason glimpse of the men's and women's basketball teams.
The free event will begin at 7:15 p.m. at Sokol Arena. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.
A 3-point shooting contest and short scrimmages by both teams will highlight the evening. Men's coach Greg McDermott and women's coach Jim Flanery will address the crowd, and Fox Sports 1 will conduct interviews with McDermott and son Doug, the Big East's preseason player of the year.