Ronnie Harrell

Ronnie Harrell said he’s gone from a “lackadaisical dude” to a competitor who wants to be the first to finish conditioning exercises and the last to leave the gym.

There will be instances over the next month when Creighton’s Ronnie Harrell will take an ill-advised shot, or he’ll inadvertently move the wrong way during an offensive possession, or he’ll have a cringe-worthy defensive lapse.

Mistakes are coming. He gets that.

He’s just curious to see how he’ll handle them.

“You rarely hear guys say they’re excited to practice, but I want to see if I’m where I think I am,” the sophomore forward said last week. “I want to see if I can handle the everyday struggles of practice — remembering all of the plays. Just test myself. I’m excited.”

Harrell will certainly get his chance. College basketball teams across the country officially begin practicing Friday — the Jays got a sampling two days ago when they trained with the coaches for two straight hours, sprinting through close-out drills, hustling as they worked on defensive reads and gasping for breath in between reps of full-court fast-break simulations.

It’ll be even more physically and mentally taxing going forward. And the guys who can’t handle that challenge likely won’t be relied on in the key moments this winter.

Which is why Harrell spent the offseason preparing for this moment.

He realized a few months ago that he needed to be more disciplined in all aspects of his life — an attitude adjustment he presumed would increase his productivity in the weight room, in practice and in games. He said he’s gone from a “lackadaisical dude” to a competitor who wants to be the first to finish conditioning exercises and the last to leave the gym.

“I’m in a whole different mindset right now,” Harrell said.

Offseason conversations with his cousin, former NBA player Chauncey Billups, may have made the biggest difference. Harrell went back to Denver after last season and ended up spending time with Billups. They worked out. They put up shots together. They chatted about everything.

What stood out to Harrell: Billups’ commitment level.

The man is 40. He hasn’t played in the League in two years. Yet he works that hard?

“(Billups) is the guy that got me to sit down and change my mindset,” Harrell said. “Once you put that work in, you just start to love it. You don’t feel right if you don’t go to the gym. I’ve seen that from him. I want to get to that level.”

So Harrell’s made some changes this summer. His coach has noticed.

Whether Harrell can improve on his on-court output from a year ago — he averaged 3.2 points and 2.6 rebounds in about 10 minutes per game — remains to be seen. But he’s in a better place, Greg McDermott said.

“He couldn’t get out of his own way last year — whether it’d be an academic issue, an off-the-floor issue or consistent effort and concentration on the practice floor,” McDermott said. “To Ronnie’s credit, he’s flipped the switch.”

McDermott said he’s seen improvement from Harrell on the court as a result. The 6-foot-7 wing could be an integral piece in a Creighton rotation that lacks seasoned options on its front line.

The key for Harrell, he said, is to continue to push himself. He doesn’t want to be discouraged after a disappointing stretch in practice. He has to keep working.

“This is only the beginning,” Harrell said. “(You can) get to a point to where you want to work hard, to get what you want. But once you actually get there, it’s harder to keep it. I want to get to that point — and then I want to work twice as hard to sustain.”

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