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July 24, 2014
Who impressed this summer?
The 2014 Omaha Metro Basketball Summer League has crowned another champion -- Andy's Lawncare edged Bank of Nebraska in an overtime thriller on Monday. With another summer in the books, we thought it was a great time to recap the performances of each Creighton Bluejay who participated. Let's take a look at who the stars were, who has improved and who has work to do to get ready for the 2014-15 season which, incredibly, is just three and a half months away.
Transfer point guard Maurice Watson Jr. was not only the top Jay in the league, but some would argue he was the MVP of the league. Watson displayed great quickness on both ends of the court, and fans saw his ability to get into the lane almost at will. Once he was deep into the lane, Mo showed a variety of at-the-rim skills to finish at a high clip. His tear-drop is deadly, with proficiency from 3 to 10 feet away from the hoop, and it's part of the reason why he has an uncanny ability to finish at the rim even when challenged by much larger players. Watson also showed he can hit from the outside, something he wanted to work on during the summer league.
"The main key for me was being confident," Watson said. "I switched up my form so I could get my shot off faster. It will make my game more complete."
As he sits out this year due to his transfer from Boston University, Watson will need to improve on the defensive end before he takes over the reins from Austin Chatman in 2015-16.
A Beast. That's best description for big man Zach Hanson's play through much of the summer league. He simply over-matched many of his foes inside as he showed the power and strength that was on display only in short spurts during his freshman season. Hanson also showed his ability to finish inside, knocking down 6- to 8-foot shots mixed with the occasional power slam. He did not often step outside, a part of his game most fans have not yet seen. The big key for Hanson will be consistency night in and night out in 2014-15.
The 6-foot-9 forward Toby Hegner, now tipping the scales at 230 pounds, showed a great variety of inside moves mixed in with 3-point bombs that could land him a lot of playing time next season. Hegner has also adjusted his shot since high school.
"I'm working on my shot to improve my percentage," he said. "I'm putting up 500 shots three to four times a week to get more consistent."
The hard work appears to have paid off as Hegner was a match-up problem for most teams -- they could not leave him alone from the 3-point line. He is someone to watch in the upcoming season.
What you have seen the last three years out of point guard Austin Chatman is exactly what you saw in this year's summer league. He displayed his quickness, his ability to get into the lane and his excellent assist-to-turnover ratio. With the Jays' need to replace a whole lot of scoring this upcoming season, it was also a great sign to see Chatman knock down as many mid-range and long-range jumpers as he did. What was even more amazing about his performance was that for the last two weeks of the league, he apparently played with a torn radial collateral ligament in his right thumb. Chatman had surgery this week and is expected to be 100 percent when practice begins in October. Good news for Jays fans, as Chatman is a big key for this year's team.
The summer league is a perfect place for point guard Devin Brooks to show off his skillset, and he did not disappoint. The fast-paced, end-to-end action of the league allows Brooks to show off his slick moves and athletic ability. There were times he left defenders standing flat-footed as he blew by them to the hoop. Other times, he showed why he is the streakiest shooter on the team as he drained threes on multiple possessions, some with a hand in his face. However, there were also times when he showed patience and was content to distribute and lead his team in other ways. Was this the growth in his game Jays fans have been looking for? We'll see come November.
There is probably not a player on Creighton's roster next year that fans have more questions about than guard Avery Dingman. Will his 3-point shot return to form? Will he or newcomer Ricky Kreklow get more minutes? Will Dingman's experience be a difference-maker this season? Of course, most of these questions won't be answered until the season is well under way, but after the summer league we can at least start to answer a few of them with what we saw.
Dingman's outside shot was still not falling the way it was a couple years ago. However, in the games I watched, it wasn't a big part of his game. He relied much more on penetration and finishing at the hoop. He scored in double digits in several games and played some hard-nosed defense, which has always been his strong suit. His shot is not where he'd like it to be, but in talking to Dingman, he is not overly concerned.
"I've been a shooter my whole life," he said, "and last year, I didn't shoot a good percentage, so I'm going to try and get back to that and put up a lot of shots this summer."
Guard/forward Ricky Kreklow made just a few summer league appearances, but he still showed why he will be a valuable member of the 2014-15 squad. The first thing you notice is his overall size and strength. If he splits time with Dingman at the three spot, the Jays will be able to have a tall, strong defender on the floor at most times. While his outside shot wasn't falling, his form looked great, and I see no reason why he won't be a threat from the outside all season long. Lastly, his extensive Division I experience will be invaluable to a team that lost four starters.
Big man Will Artino continues to add muscle to his frame, and no doubt the Championship Center will help with that as the season draws nearer. Artino spent most of the time on the perimeter in the summer league and showed his range for a 6-foot-11 post player. However, when the games got close and his teams needed a bucket, Artino showed the tenacity on the boards that he had in his first three years as a Jay. Inside, he more than held his own against skilled professional European players in the summer league. His role and his development will be a big factor in the success of the team this year.
Center Geoff Groselle opened some eyes with his performance when he went for 29 points and 20 rebounds a couple weeks ago, with some of those numbers coming against Phoenix Sun Anthony Tolliver. There is no doubt that Groselle could be a physical force if - and it's a big if - he stays healthy. He moved well during the whole summer league and showed some good offensive moves in the post. If he's healthy, it will be interesting to see his role on the team behind fellow big men Artino and Hanson.
The Creighton coaches have been raving about guard James Milliken during the off-season, and it was easy to see why they were so excited about his potential. He showed great range and accuracy from three, was able to take his defenders off the dribble and played solid defense. His court presence was also something noticeable during the summer league season, and that, teamed with his overall athleticism, gives James a strong chance to start for the Jays this coming season.
It's safe to say that guard/forward Ronnie Harrell was a pleasant surprise to most fans and observers of the summer league. While coming in highly touted as an elite shooter, many were unsure of his other skills. Harrell showed he can take an opponent off the dribble and get off his shot while closely guarded. He also showed off his defensive skills and, because of his length, frequently got into passing lanes to either tip balls or disrupt an offensive flow. Already at 6-foot-8 and still growing, Harrell could give the Jays tremendous length on the wing. "A lot of people have told me that I look a lot taller than when I was here in Grand Island last year," Harrell said, referring to an event his high school team played in Grand Island last season. While he certainly needs to gain some weight to compete successfully in the Big East (he's added ten pounds this summer), Harrell has the skills that could make him a contributor next season.
Guard/forward Leon Gilmore III is just another player who is instantly transforming the Jays into a very long and athletic team. The thing that struck me most about Gilmore was his ability to rebound. While technique certainly plays into being a successful rebounder, some players just have a nose for the ball, and Gilmore is one of those guys (Brooks is another). His tremendous length and athleticism made him one player you really noticed on the defensive end. Gilmore struggled to knock down shots during the summer league season and didn't feel he played his best. "I had a lot of off games and couldn't find rhythm in my shot," he said.
But even through his struggles, Gilmore had his best game as his season ended in a tournament loss. A final note on him - make sure you have a front row seat for the dunk contest at Bluejay Madness. Gilmore is sure to put on a show.
It should be noted that Cole Huff and Isaiah Zierden did not participate in the summer league as they recover from injuries.