The changing landscape of college basketball continues to stress Greg McDermott's recruiting philosophy.
In a perfect world, McDermott would prefer to build his program on the backs of the high school players he brings in and develops.
But with four out of 10 high school players who join Division I programs as freshmen transferring before their junior seasons, it would be foolish for a coach to ignore the talent available on the transfer market.
McDermott hasn't, and that's why there is a good chance the Bluejays will begin the 2016-17 season starting three players who began their collegiate careers at other D-I schools.
"When you have the opportunity to add a player with the talent of a Maurice Watson or a Cole Huff or a Marcus Foster, you don't say no," McDermott said. "They are guys that are going to impact your program in a positive way."
In the past 13months, McDermott and his staff have convinced Watson, Huff and Foster to come to Omaha. The Bluejays also got graduate transfer Ricky Kreklow to walk on this season. Because he had graduated from California, Kreklow was eligible immediately and became a key member of this season's 14-19 team.
Creighton recruited Marcus Foster out of high school, but didn't land the guard until he decided to transfer from Kansas State after his sophomore season. He was second-team All-Big 12 as a freshman. THE AS SOCIATED PRESS
Watson, who played his first two seasons at Boston University, and Huff, who played two seasons at Nevada, joined the program last spring. They sat out this season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules and have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Foster will join the program in June after playing two seasons at Kansas State. A second-team All-Big 12 selection as a freshman, Foster will have to sit out next season but also has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
The 5-foot-10 Watson scored 800 points and dished out 410 assists in his two seasons at Boston. He and Huff, a 6-8 power forward with perimeter shooting skills, are expected to move into the starting lineup as Creighton tries to dig itself out from its worst season in two decades.
Foster scored 875 points at Kansas State but was dismissed at the end of this season after butting heads with coach Bruce Weber. Foster's name already is penciled into the starting lineup when he becomes eligible.
"We're going to lose James Milliken after next year, so it's a perfect time for Marcus to join our program," McDermott said. "I think recruiting transfers is something we're going to have to continue to look at.
"I don't want it to be the majority of our recruiting, but it's something that has to complement our recruiting of high school players."
Creighton brought in five high school players the past two seasons. One — Darian Harris — transferred after redshirting the 2013-14 season and another — Leon Gilmore — will transfer after seeing limited action this season.
The Bluejays are adding four players next season who will have four seasons of eligibility. McDermott and his coaches recruited Justin Patton and Marlon Stewart out of traditional high school programs. Khyri Thomas, who graduated from Omaha Benson in 2014, will join the program after spending this year at Fork Union Military Academy, a prep school in Virginia.
The Bluejays also are bringing in Martin Krampelj, a native of Slovenia who spent this year in a prep-school program at the Impact Academy in Sarasota, Florida.
"I still want the nuts and bolts of our program to be high school guys," McDermott said. "I think you have to be cognizant of what is out there on the transfer market, but I don't want to live and die with that.
"It has allowed ourselves to bring our talent level up to Big East standards quicker, but I'd still rather do it with high school kids day in and out."
Creighton joined the reconfigured Big East at the start of the 2013-14 season. With a veteran team anchored by national player of the year Doug McDermott, the Bluejays had a successful transition from the mid-major Missouri Valley.
Struggles came this season with the departure of Doug McDermott and three other seniors. Creighton went 4-14 and tied for last in the Big East, partly because the Jays found themselves overmatched by bigger, stronger and better players.
The addition of Huff, Watson and Foster is expected to level the playing court.
"I watched Maurice Watson play against UConn," McDermott said. "I know what he can do. We know what Marcus Foster can do. He had 34 (points) against Texas this year.
"There's not a lot of guesswork in taking guys like that.
I'm not saying it's a risk to take high school players, but there are certainly more unknowns. We think we know what we have with freshmen, but until we get them here, we really don't know."
The glut of transfers available has changed one of the ways McDermott and his staff go about recruiting high school players. In the past, McDermott said, Creighton might have bailed on a player early if it knew it had no chance of landing him.
Now, the Bluejays are likely to stick it out until the player makes his final decision.
"I think you stay involved longer with guys you know you're not going to get," McDermott said. "In the past, if we knew we were one of 10 schools a player was considering but we were probably seventh, eighth or ninth on his list, we'd move on.
"Now I think it's advantageous to stay in there and try to handle it right until the very end. It helps you develop a relationship so that if a guy decides to leave, maybe he'll remember you."
That approach helped Creighton land the 6-3 Foster the second time around. The Bluejays were heavily involved in trying to recruit him out of high school in Wichita Falls, Texas. It came down to Kansas State and Creighton, but Foster picked the Wildcats after making an official visit to Manhattan six days before he was supposed to visit Omaha.
Instead of being upset with Foster's decision, McDermott said, the Creighton coaches wished him well. When Foster found himself on the market this spring, Creighton was the first school he considered.
"It pays to do things right because you don't know which ones are going to end up transferring," McDermott said. "Who would have thought Marcus Foster, after averaging 16 a game as a freshman, would be available after his second year?"
Creighton also had an inside track with Watson because assistant Patrick Sellers had recruited the player when he was at Connecticut.
Of course, it never hurts to get lucky. The Bluejays had no previous relationship with Huff when he decided to leave after his sophomore season at Nevada.
"Cole saw us on TV and liked the way we played," McDermott said. "Some guys, you spend two years recruiting and then you don't get them. We recruited Cole Huff for eight days.
"We got a great player. That's the reality of it."
The reality is that, despite its move to the Big East, Creighton still is not going to beat a lot of the elite, blueblood programs for recruits.
But with everything the Bluejays have to offer — a new practice facility, an NBA-like arena that is usually filled to capacity and the opportunity to face topflight competition — the school could find itself increasingly attractive to players looking for a fresh start.
When Omaha hosted NCAA tournament games in March, four of the teams worked out at CU's practice facility. Players from Oklahoma State, Indiana, Oregon and Wisconsin were filling up their phones with pictures of the state-of-the-art facility.
"I think we're attractive to guys looking to transfer because of the fact that we play fast, there is a lot of freedom in our offense, we shoot a lot of 3s and we play in front of 17,000 people," McDermott said. "Then, when we get guys here, they see it's a special place because of our facilities.
"Some guys come from places where basketball isn't that important, even at the BCS level. To go somewhere where they really care about basketball is a big selling point."
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