Most of Zach Hanson's Creighton teammates probably know very little about Friday night's exhibition game opponent.
Not only does Hanson know Northern State's coach and some of its players, but he is well-acquainted with a member of the school's athletic hall of fame.
His mother, Jane, was inducted in 2007 after finishing as the school's all-time shot blocker in addition to ranking in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding and field-goal percentage.
“I got to be there when she was inducted,” Hanson said. “Growing up, I quickly learned that she knew a lot about basketball. I got a lot of advice from her over the years.”
Hanson admits it seems a bit unusual that the first time he suits up as a Bluejay will be against the school located 160 miles from his home in Pierre, S.D. Northern State, a Division II school located in Aberdeen, S.D., is coached by Paul Sather, who was a graduate assistant at Wayne State when Greg McDermott coached there.
“I know Coach Sather and a lot of the guys on the team,” Hanson said. “I haven't really talked much about it with my mom, but I know she'll be excited to see some of the people from Northern State come down here.”
The game against the Wolves will mark the debut for the Bluejays' five scholarship newcomers. Junior-college transfers Devin Brooks and James Milliken will join true freshmen Hanson, Toby Hegner and Darian Harris in experiencing game night for the first time.
Milliken and Brooks are expected to become productive members of the regular rotation. McDermott said no final decisions have been made on whether the true freshmen will redshirt or play this season.
Because of Creighton's personnel situation, Hegner, a 6-9 forward, and Harris, a 6-6 wing player, are likely candidates to sit out the season in order to learn the system and improve their strength.
Hanson's situation is less clear-cut. The two-time South Dakota player of the year is contending for playing time at center with junior Will Artino and sophomore Geoffrey Groselle as Creighton attempts to replace the only starter it lost from last season's 28-win team.
Gregory Echenique is now playing professionally in Germany. The 6-11 Artino will start Friday at center, but McDermott said Hanson and Groselle should see plenty of playing time.
As it stands, Hanson's performance will not ultimately determine his status for the coming season.
“It will have some impact, but we'll decide based on everything we've seen since the start of practice in September,” McDermott said. “Zach had a great week of practice last week. This week, he hasn't been as consistent, but how many freshmen really are?
“The one thing we want to see from Zach is consistent effort on the defensive end as well as in his rebounding.”
Like many freshmen, Hanson has had to adapt to the more physical style of the collegiate game.
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“The one thing we've seen as we've gone through practice is that Zach is becoming a more physical player,” McDermott said. “He has a better understanding of how physical you have to be, and I think he's gaining a better understanding of what he can and can't get away with at this level.”
There were times during his high school career, Hanson said, when he felt he couldn't get away with much.
“In high school, I was always one of the bigger guys,” he said. “I think there were times when I got penalized when I tried to play physically.
“There were nights when I had to guard differently. There is just a lot more one-on-one physicality here. It takes a while to get used to that.”
Friday's game will be the Bluejays' lone public tune-up before next week's season opener against Alcorn State. Creighton did hold a closed scrimmage against Iowa State.
McDermott said he would like to see his team rebound better than it did against the Cyclones as well as exhibit better consistency in its offensive execution.
“We moved the ball well in the scrimmage,” he said, “but there were some times when we got stagnant.”
NOTES: McDermott said Artino will join the four returning starters — Doug McDermott, Jahenns Manigat, Grant Gibbs and Austin Chatman — in the starting lineup against the Wolves. ... Northern State was the exhibition opponent in 2010, which was the McDermotts' first game at Creighton. Doug scored 18 points and had seven rebounds in the 79-67 win. ... Greg McDermott is 20-0 in exhibition games as a Division I coach. ... Northern State played in front of a total of 10,757 fans in its 14 road games last season. Creighton officials are hopeful that Friday's game could draw a sellout crowd of 17,390.
Poll snubs surprise McDermott
Although Greg McDermott doesn't put much stock in preseason rankings, the Creighton coach admits he is surprised that his team didn't land a Top 25 spot in either of the two major polls.
The Bluejays received 145 points in the Associated Press preseason poll released Thursday. That put them in the 27th slot in the rankings, one spot higher than where the coaches placed them in the USA Today rankings.
“The preseason stuff doesn't mean much to me, so it doesn't bother me,” McDermott said. “But I am a little surprised.”
McDermott said preseason rankings usually take into consideration a team's performance in the previous season, along with the number of key players it has returning. The Bluejays went 28-8 last season and reached the third round of the NCAA tournament. Four starters, including two-time first-team All-American Doug McDermott, return in addition to a number of key reserves.
“We did pretty well last year, and we have a lot of guys back,” Greg McDermott said. “I don't know if this is a result of us moving to a new league and people not having confidence that we're good enough to compete in that league.
“All I know is that it's motivation for us.”
Creighton finished last season ranked 21st by the coaches and 22nd by the AP. McDermott votes in the coaches poll, and he said he had his team ranked in his Top 25.