Shereef Mitchell realizes dream of joining hometown Jays, but his focus is on improving

After boosting his 3-point shooting accuracy to 40% in his final year at Omaha Burke, Shereef Mitchell gained 20 pounds in his season at Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas. Creighton coaches like his potential on defense, particularly his ability to pressure the ball.

Shereef Mitchell pounded the basketball into the hardwood with his right hand Tuesday, glaring straight ahead as a Creighton assistant shouted out instructions during a stationary dribbling drill.

Deep down, Mitchell’s hoops soul was euphoric in that moment — because of the work he’d put in to earn this opportunity. A kid from Omaha sporting a Creighton practice jersey? For Mitchell, it’s a dream come true.

But the 6-foot-1 guard didn’t convey those emotions Tuesday when he joined his new CU teammates for a one-hour workout inside the Jays’ practice gym.

Mitchell was all business.

“It is very exciting to be here, but at the same time, I’m here for a reason,” he said in an interview after the workout ended, and after he’d fired up a series of 3-point shots from seven spots on the floor. “I’ll bask in it and I’ll be happy for where I am. Because I did work hard for it. But now it’s time to work harder.”

That’s the mentality he hopes to carry throughout his first summer at Creighton.

He knows he’ll be tested in new ways. There will be good days, sure. But he’s bound to find himself leaving the gym humbled and frustrated. That’s life as a rookie.

But it’s also not a deterrent. Few things are for Mitchell.

When the CU coaching staff told him to show improvement from 3-point range during his final year at Omaha Burke, Mitchell went out and shot 40%. When the coaches suggested his body might benefit from a year at prep school, Mitchell went to Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas and gained 20 pounds.

Even after his season ended at Sunrise early this spring, Mitchell couldn’t sit still.

He got a key to the Omaha Sports Academy facilities so he could shoot on his own time. He also connected with former Husker football player Steve Warren and started training at Warren Academy. The focus then wasn’t necessarily to keep adding weight, just to make sure Mitchell had a baseline of strength.

And Warren, the former NFL defensive lineman, prodded Mitchell’s psyche a bit, too.

“Our new mantra here is, coaching is not criticism,” Warren said. “Are you coachable? That’s going to make the biggest difference in college. And Shereef, he was receptive. He worked well. He’s a humble kid who was very appreciative.”

But not yet content.

Mitchell stood on Creighton’s court Tuesday next to juniors and seniors. He’s too competitive to back down, but he’s not unrealistic about the challenges that await him.

CU coaches are encouraged about Mitchell’s defensive skills, particularly his ability to pressure the ball. He anticipates things well and knows how to use his quickness, according to coach Greg McDermott. And he’s met every expectation they’ve laid out for him to this point.

“He always talked about wanting to play at Creighton, and part of me wanted to find out how bad he wanted to be here,” McDermott said. “He’s checked all of the boxes.”

Mitchell’s ready to keep impressing.

“I don’t mind working,” he said. “That’s one of the things I take pride in. I work very hard for everything. I make sure I’m not given something — I earn it. I take pride in that.”

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