Creighton walk-on recruit Nic Zeil was sitting in the stands for a Creighton game as a high school freshman when he found himself seriously pondering the possibility of playing at college basketball’s top level.
That idea stuck with him. Soon it became a goal. And he never fully relinquished it, even after signing with Division II Truman State last November.
So that’s why Zeil made his way to Omaha for a recruiting visit early this week. He stepped inside the facilities, met a few CU players and walked around campus. His mind was made up almost immediately.
“I’d just felt like I needed to try Division I,” Zeil said by phone Tuesday. “It’s always been a dream to go up and play at Creighton, ever since I was a little kid.”
And now Zeil, the 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward, will join the Jays as a walk-on. He’s part of a recruiting class that includes incoming freshman guards Shereef Mitchell and Jalen Windham.
CU learned Tuesday that four-star 2019 prospect Tristan Enaruna, who visited Creighton last month, decided to commit to Kansas.
With Enaruna headed elsewhere and rising senior Martin Krampelj thinking of turning pro, the Jays could have just two scholarship players standing taller than 6-foot-6 on their 2019-20 roster. And one of them — center Jacob Epperson — is expected to spend much of the offseason rehabbing.
So Zeil’s eager to help, and find a role.
“I’ll do whatever I can,” he said. “Whether it’s shooting, or bringing toughness. Whatever I can give in a basketball sense, that’s I want to bring that to the table.”
He had initially planned to bring a similar mentality to Truman State in Kirksville, Missouri, where his brother Tanner will be a redshirt sophomore. But as Zeil progressed through his final year of high school ball, he started considering other options.
Zeil said the Truman State coaches were understanding — they released him from his letter of intent so he could test the recruiting market again. Family members and mentors had his back, too.
Eventually Zeil found a new home.
“I was signed to Truman State, but I just started feeling like this was something I wanted to do — and the Truman State coaches, thankfully, they kind of knew that,” Zeil said. “Everyone supported me.”
He was a first-team all-conference performer at Park Hill High School last season and one of 15 players named to the Missouri team in the Kansas City coaches association’s all-star game in April. Zeil said he’s been working specifically on his jump shot since the spring.
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After growing up in Cascade, Iowa, Greg McDermott went on to play at Northern Iowa from 1984-88, earning second-team all-conference honors as a junior.
After serving as an assistant at North Dakota, Greg McDermott got his first head coaching job at Wayne State in 1994. He won 116 games there in six years and led the Wildcats to four straight 20-win seasons.
Greg McDermott took over at his alma mater, Northern Iowa, in April 2001. He made three consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament from 2004-06.
Greg McDermott was introduced as Iowa State's new coach in March 2006, but he struggled to find success in Ames. He left after four seasons with a losing overall record, no NCAA tournament appearances and no better than a seventh-place finish in the Big 12.
Greg McDermott was tabbed in April 2010 to replace Dana Altman as Creighton's next men's basketball coach.
Greg McDermott inherited a Creighton roster in his first season that included experienced veterans like Kenny Lawson and Antoine Young, as well as a mix of talented young players like Grant Gibbs, Gregory Echenique and his son, Doug McDermott.
Greg McDermott led Creighton to a 23-16 overall record in his first season. The Bluejays played in the College Basketball Invitational and lost in the championship series to Oregon and former Bluejay coach Dana Altman.
In 2012, Greg McDermott won his first Missouri Valley tournament title with Creighton, defeating Illinois State by four in the championship game.
The 2011-12 season also featured Creighton's first NCAA tournament victory in a decade. The No. 8-seeded Bluejays defeated Alabama in the first round before falling to North Carolina.
Creighton and Greg McDermott made it back-to-back conference tournament titles in 2013. The Bluejays also won the regular-season championship that season.
Greg McDermott led Creighton back to the NCAA tournament in 2013, this time as a No. 7 seed, and defeated Cincinnati in the opener before getting eliminated by Duke in the second round.
Greg McDermott helped steer Creighton into the Big East, and he made his coaching debut in the conference on Dec. 31, 2013 with a 67-49 victory over Marquette.
Greg McDermott had the opportunity to coach his son, Doug McDermott, for four seasons at Creighton. Doug was a three-time All-American under his father and won the national player of the year award in 2014.
Creighton's third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament ended with another second-round loss. After defeating Louisiana-Lafayette in the opener, CU fell by 30 to Baylor, again falling short of the Sweet 16.
Creighton's first season in the post-Doug McDermott era was a struggle, as the Bluejays limped to a 14-19 overall record — 4-14 in the Big East — under Greg McDermott in 2014-15.
Creighton saw improvement under Greg McDermott in 2015-16, finishing sixth in the Big East with a 9-9 record. The Bluejays made it to the NIT that season, losing to BYU in the quarterfinals.
Greg McDermott led Creighton to its best start in program history during the 2016-17 season. The Bluejays won their first 13 games and were ranked as high as No. 7 nationally before struggling down the stretch.
The late-season struggles continued for Greg McDermott and Creighton into the NCAA tournament. The No. 6-seeded Bluejays fell to Rhode Island in the first round, ending their once-promising season.
Greg McDermott was targeted by Ohio State for its head coaching vacancy, but on June 8, 2017, he announced that he was staying with the Bluejays.
Greg McDermott led Creighton to 21-12 record in 2018. The Jays ended the season with three straight losses, including 72-68 to Providence in the Big East tournament and 69-59 to Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott comforts Marcus Foster near the end of a 69-59 loss to Kansas State in the 2018 NCAA tournament. The loss was the Jays' third straight in the NCAA tournament.