The Bluejays were still catching their breath after a series of sprints to end a team workout recently when it was suggested that they hang around a while longer.
The coaches left already after leading a high-intensity group session that emphasized transition responsibilities. The players capped the workout by running 3 ½ lengths of the court … 10 times.
Suddenly, junior Ty-Shon Alexander was looking at his teammates, saying, “Let’s play to seven.” Moments later, the 10 were picking their matchups, starting a pick-up run that they told each other had to feature the vigor of a real practice.
If you’re not pushing yourself, you’re falling behind.
The Jays will soon find out if they’ve done enough these past few months. The preseason officially starts Tuesday, when the Jays conduct their first practice of the 2019-20 campaign.
Here is a player progress report based on observations during the team’s summer workouts.
Senior Kelvin Jones: The springy 6-foot-11 center has shot-blocking instincts on one end and knows how to finish on the other. His biggest challenge likely will be mastering CU’s defensive schemes. The Australia trip would have been huge for Jones, but the grad transfer from Idaho State was sidelined with a broken finger.
Senior Davion Mintz: He delivered a no-look lob pass for an alley-oop during a ball screen drill last week. Not sure if that sort of flair will become part of his regular arsenal, but he seems to be passing with more confidence and accuracy. He’ll be an interesting watch defensively because once he embraced that part of his game midway through last season, he emerged as the Jays’ top on-ball option.
Senior Jordan Scurry: He’s twice been awarded one-year scholarships during the season, which should be an indicator of the intangible lift he provides. Scurry’s an energy reservoir — if you need a boost, he’s ready to provide it. He’s a 3-point specialist whose on-court practice duties are typically to simulate the opponent’s best perimeter scorer.
Alexander: He had, arguably, the highlight of Creighton’s alumni scrimmage in August. Dribbling on the wing, Alexander leaned to his right to suggest he might try a step-back 3, only to cross over and drive left to the rim for a layup — all while being guarded by Anthony Tolliver. Alexander does seem to be quicker with the dribble. Now he’ll have to take that aggressiveness to game days.
Junior Mitch Ballock: He looks faster and more decisive, particularly when attacking off the bounce. He made a point to work on varying his finishes at the rim because he has been encouraged to look to score more. An elite shooter like Ballock should be attempting more than 8.2 field goals per game (though he did lead the team in assists last year).
Junior Damien Jefferson: After spending much of the summer rehabbing a foot injury, Jefferson’s back to his old self. He’s finishing at the rim. He’s leaping to secure rebounds. He’s still committing extra time to a jump shot that was reconstructed two years ago. Even after going 14 of 34 from 3-point range last season, opponents will probably still dare him to shoot from the outside.
Junior Denzel Mahoney: He was away from the team for nearly six months, but it appears he stayed in good shape. Mahoney won’t be eligible to play until December. When he makes his Creighton debut, he’ll give the Jays some needed perimeter size (and length). Mahoney can shoot from anywhere. He doesn’t play above the rim, but he has a knack for getting to the foul line.
Sophomore Christian Bishop: He took a big jump during the summer, and the results showed in Australia (15.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game). Bishop displayed a willingness last year to make the hustle plays. He’s added some strength so he can hold his ground better inside — but he still possesses guard-like agility that most big men aren’t used to dealing with. He’s quick off the floor and a powerful finisher.
Sophomore Antwann Jones: The Memphis transfer will sit out this season, though he provided a glimpse of his skills while the Jays were in Australia. In three games, Jones led the team in rebounds (19) and steals (10) and finished second in assists (12). He’s full of confidence and bravado — he seems to be at his best when he’s playing with an edge.
Sophomore Jacob Epperson: It was a rehab offseason for Epperson, who underwent season-ending back and knee surgeries last winter. He’s still been able to build upper-body strength, but the 7-footer hasn’t had chances to test himself in full contact situations yet. Epperson’s a rim protector who also converted 72.2% of his field goal tries. He’s may be the Jays’ biggest X-factor in 2019-20.
Sophomore Marcus Zegarowski: He already looks more assertive and commanding in the point guard role — though he just recently returned to action after summer surgery (hip). He was the Big East’s best 3-point shooter last year, and that wasn’t a fluke. He’s slick with the dribble — able to change speeds seamlessly when attacking in transition or working with a ball screen. Zegarowski has immense potential.
Redshirt freshman Jett Canfield: He can hit an open jump shot and he’ll exploit weak closeouts with drives to the paint (maybe even finishing with a smooth floater). He’s 5-10, so he’ll occasionally get caught in size disadvantages, but the walk-on is not one to back away from a rep.
Freshman Shereef Mitchell: He has quick hands and good instincts on the ball defensively. So if you’re loose with the dribble, Mitchell’s likely ripping it away. And he never relents. On the other end of the court, he’s still making strides as a ball handler and shooter. He reads the floor pretty well, but Creighton’s up-tempo pace often requires an adjustment for rookies.
Freshman Jalen Windham: He’s not shy offensively. For good reason. He was a scorer in high school. There will be some lessons about shot selection, as is the case with most first-year players. But Windham’s baseline appears to be pretty high because he can knock down 3-pointers with regularity.
Freshman Nic Zeil: It didn’t take long for Zeil to blend in. In July, the 6-8 walk-on was shouting out ball screen coverages in practice as if he were a vet. He can knock down a 3-pointer and has a couple of sound go-to moves on the block, too.