Creighton tipped off a basketball season of heavy expectations Friday with its first official practice.
No player might be shouldering more of the early load than guard Austin Chatman. As the leading candidate to replace three-year starter Antoine Young at point guard, Chatman's every move is bound to be scrutinized and analyzed.
And he knows it.
“The only thing you can do is keep working hard,” Chatman said after the Bluejays ran through an hour-and-40-minute practice at Sokol Arena. “People are always going to want to criticize what you do, but the only way to prove them wrong is to work hard and improve.”
In the seven months since last season's 29-win campaign ended with a loss to North Carolina in the third round of the NCAA tournament, the Bluejays have been bombarded with reminders that much will be expected of them this time around.
They've shown up in almost all the early preseason rankings, landing a spot in the top 10 in one. Doug McDermott, a first-team All-American last season, is again forecast to be one of the country's best players.
The one uncertainty is how the Bluejays will compensate for the departure of Young, who finished second on the team in scoring (12.1 points per game) and assists (4.4).
Chatman was Young's backup last season, averaging 2.4 points while playing almost 12 minutes per game as a freshman. The 6-footer from the Dallas suburb of The Colony had 67 assists in 35 games but also turned the ball over 41 times.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott acknowledged that there will be a learning curve that Chatman must master as he takes over control of the offense.
“Last year, when he made a mistake, he came out of a game,” McDermott said. “This year, he's going to have to figure out a way to play through those mistakes.
“That's a process, and I think he's worked hard to prepare himself for it.”
McDermott dismisses any notion that Chatman is under more pressure than the rest of the Bluejays as the season approaches.
If there is any pressure, McDermott said, “It's not coming from us.”
McDermott has tried to tell Chatman, as he does all of his players, to steer clear of the internet or social media sources.
“They need to stay away from reading and listening about both the good stuff and the bad stuff,” the coach said. “Generally, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. It's just not healthy to read any of that stuff.”
Chatman tries to adhere to that advice. So do his teammates, but that's not always easy.
“We'll be out eating at a restaurant and someone will come up and tell us what a great year we had last year and how this one has a chance to be really special,” guard Avery Dingman said. “But for the most part, we try to block it out.
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“You can be excited about it and think that it's cool that we're projected to be pretty good, but we can't let it get to us and start thinking that we are pretty good. We haven't done anything yet.”
Dingman and Chatman both played last season as true freshmen. While acknowledging that his teammate will be asked to play a much bigger role this season, Dingman believes Chatman has the personality to handle the increased expectations.
“He has some pretty big shoes to fill,” Dingman said. “But I think he'll do a good job of running the offense efficiently and getting the ball where it needs to go, whether that's inside to Doug or outside to shooters.
“He's the guy everyone is going to be looking at, but I think he'll do well. Austin is the kind of guy that likes to step up to the pressure and the attention, and I think he'll handle it well. Some guys might not want to be in that position, but that's not Austin.”
Chatman has worked hard during the offseason on a part of the game that no drills can sharpen.
“The thing I know I need to do is to become a better leader,” Chatman said. “I'm trying to become more of a vocal leader and taking the role of a true point guard.
“I'm just glad to be getting this thing going. There's a lot of buzz about how good we're going to be, and we want to show that we've been working hard to make that come true.”
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