Summer's end means Jays return to court

Grant Gibbs is back with Creighton's basketball team this season after he was awarded a sixth season of eligibility during the offseason.

For the record, Grant Gibbs was the first player on the court for Creighton's first basketball workout of the new season.

It was more a matter of necessity than flat-out enthusiasm.

“It takes me a little longer to get going these days,” said Gibbs, the Bluejays' sixth-year senior, with a sly smile.

Gibbs and his teammates gathered Tuesday afternoon for a round of pickup games at the Vinardi Center before going through physicals in the evening. Classes start Wednesday at Creighton, and the team will gather in the afternoon for a session in the weight room before a meeting with coach Greg McDermott.

If it seems like it was just yesterday that the Bluejays were closing out their 2012-13 season with a NCAA tournament loss to Duke, well, you're not the only one feeling that way.

“It's crazy how it goes by so fast,” senior forward Ethan Wragge said. “It's like, where did the summer go?”

Actually, Wragge spent much of the offseason watching his teammates go through their summer workout program. He underwent surgery in the spring to repair the injury to his left wrist suffered at the Missouri Valley tournament.

Wragge, a right-handed shooter, was able to do some work in the weight room, and he started doing shooting drills before the Fourth of July.

“But I just played my first game since the operation on Saturday,” he said. “The rehab took a little longer than expected, plus I didn't want to force anything during the summer.”

One player eager to get going Tuesday was Isaiah Zierden. The 6-foot-2 guard from St. Louis Park, Minn., redshirted as a freshman last season. He admits he's “biting the bit” to show what he can do.

“I feel like I've had a huge weight lifted off of me now that I have this opportunity,” Zierden said. “Now, it's a matter of making the most of that opportunity. It's great knowing that I have a chance to play.”

Zierden said the redshirt season allowed him to adjust to the speed of the college game.

“The game just slowed down,” he said. “Last year, during summer workouts and during training camp, it seemed like everything was just going a million miles per hour. Things have just slowed down.

“I have time to read the pick-and-rolls and that kind of stuff. That's the biggest thing.”

Zierden also got a chance to get into the weight room and build his body. He said Dan Bailey, the Bluejays' strength and conditioning coach, recently showed him a picture of when he joined the program a year ago.

“My upper body looked like a twig,” he said, laughing. “I hardly recognized myself. I've made a ton of progress, both in terms of my upper-body and my lower-body strength.

“I've had that year to develop, and that's going to be important now with us going to the Big East.”

The Bluejays are moving to the new Big East, where the play is expected to be more physical than they encountered in the Missouri Valley. Preparing for that aspect of the game, Wragge said, will be important.

“This summer we spent a lot of time on individual skill work,” Wragge said. “We want to get better at certain aspects we haven't been strong at. At the same time, we've been pretty successful with what we've been doing the past two years.”

Creighton's coaches will continue to concentrate on individual skill development in the two hours per week they are allowed to work with players for the next month. A change in NCAA rules will allow full-scale team practices to begin about two weeks earlier this season.

Traditionally, teams could start practicing on Oct. 15, or a corresponding weekend. Teams are still limited to 30 practices but can begin 42 days before their first competition. In Creighton's case, that would be Sept. 27.

One thing is certain: The coaches won't have a shortage of players to work with this season. The Bluejays have 13 scholarship players plus two-time All-American Doug McDermott, who gave up his scholarship when Gibbs was unexpectedly awarded a sixth season of eligibility. Six other walk-ons are on roster.

The 20-player roster had Creighton assistant coach Darian DeVries shaking his head.

“If we can add a couple more guys,” DeVries said, “we can bring back football.”

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