Creighton guard Josh Jones' feet were aching. Some of his teammates' ears were burning.
The Bluejays are feeling the strain of four straight days of two-a-day practices, both physically and mentally. The latter can lead to on-court mistakes, resulting in some harsh words from coaches.
“It's hard to ask the guys to do what we're asking them to do,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “Especially at the pace that we're asking them to do it. They're tired right now.”
McDermott has the luxury of piling on practice time as the start of the college basketball season coincides with the school's weeklong fall break. Creighton practiced once last Friday, then held twice-daily sessions Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
The Bluejays will practice once after Wednesday's media day, then finish the week with two-a-days Thursday and Friday.
“I think the strain is more mental than anything,” said Jones, the senior from Omaha Central. “The coaches are asking us to learn a lot, and there are a lot of repetitions in order to build habits.”
Many of those repetitions have come on the defensive end. Creighton won 29 games last season, despite a defense that ranked in the bottom third nationally.
“The emphasis of the last four days have been on defense,” Jones said. “There seems to be a sense of urgency. We have to learn from mistakes last year and build off of that.
“They're also emphasizing intensity, and things have been very competitive.”
Overall, McDermott said he's liked what he's seen in the early sessions.
“For the most part, I've been pleased with our effort,” McDermott said. “It's been relatively consistent. Because we've spent the majority of our time on the defensive end, our offense is a little bit behind where it normally would be.
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“We'll begin to catch up on that in the next few days.”
One player who has shown early offensive improvement is 6-foot-9 Gregory Echenique. The senior center has averaged 10.5 and 9.7 points, respectively, in his first two seasons as a Bluejay while shooting better than 60 percent from the field.
Echenique spent the offseason refining his offensive game, and staff members said there have been times in the early practices where he has been dominant inside.
“He seems like he has a better pace to his (offensive) game,” McDermott said. “He's able to slow himself down more so than in the past. And the reality of it is he just draws a ton of attention.
“Any time we have him on the floor making an effort in the paint, it's going to create opportunities for a lot of people.”
Defensively, sophomore guard Avery Dingman is showing dramatic improvement, McDermott said. His defense — or lack of it — kept Dingman off the floor at times last season.
“Defensively, he's been head and shoulders above everyone else,” McDermott said. “He's been the most consistent with his effort and with being in the right spots and making multiple plays on one possession.”
Guards Jahenns Manigat and Austin Chatman and forward Doug McDermott also displayed improved defense, the coach said.
“We have some guys that have made some strides,” Greg McDermott said. “Now it's just a matter of putting it all together.”
The coach said it's too early to make any determinations about the status of true freshmen Andre Yates or Isaiah Zierden. McDermott said it's unlikely both would redshirt this season.
“We'll likely either play one or the other,” he said, “or both.”
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