It's difficult to gauge whether Creighton forward Ethan Wragge's body or his shot is healthier these days.
Beset by a variety of injuries his first three seasons as a Bluejay, Wragge said he is feeling great as Creighton moves within eight days of opening its season.
“I'm really happy where I am healthwise,” Wragge said before a recent practice. “Feet, knees, elbows, wrists — they all feel good.”
Creighton coach Greg McDermott views that as a positive. So, too, is the accuracy the 6-foot-7 junior has been showing when he cranks up from beyond the arc.
“The last week, in particular, he's shot the daylights out of the basketball,” McDermott said. “He's been making them at an incredible clip.”
If he keeps that up, Wragge could have Creighton opponents feeling ill. The Bluejays hardly lack for firepower, with All-American Doug McDermott and center Gregory Echenique anchoring a lineup that finished ninth nationally in scoring last season.
Wragge contributed 6.6 points per game to Creighton's 79.2 average. He led the team in 3-point baskets with 66, and he has made 146 for his career while shooting 41.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Wragge attributes his recent hot streak in practice to a revamped mental approach.
“I've slowed down and finally figured out my shot,” Wragge said. “I'm trying not to let other things affect my shot. I'm not worrying about what's happened in the past, and I'm trying to do the same thing every time I shoot.”
Also figuring into his recent dead-eye marksmanship in practice is some extra work Creighton has put in on zone offenses and defenses.
“That gives all of our outside shooters a little more of a chance to get going,” Wragge said.
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The Bluejays return nine of their regular 10 rotation players. Two redshirt and two true freshmen also have joined the mix, making for some fierce competition for playing time.
Given how Wragge is performing on both ends of the court, Greg McDermott said, he's putting himself in a position to grab his share.
“He's really doing a much better job of communicating on defense than he ever has,” McDermott said. “We ask a lot out of Ethan, moving him back and forth and making him defend a power forward and then a center.
“He's embraced the role that we've asked him to play.”
As a freshman under former coach Dana Altman, Wragge played the power forward spot and made a freshman school-record 66 3-point baskets. Wragge missed most of the next season with plantar fasciitis, with the injury providing Doug McDermott an opportunity to get onto the floor.
Wragge came back last season and played as McDermott's backup. Creighton also shifted him inside at times to spell Echenique. That transition often had Wragge battling against bigger players, and he struggled at times making the transition.
He now is growing comfortable with the assignment.
“I just like being out there,” he said. “I'll do whatever they want me to do, and I'll try my best to get the job done. It's been an adjustment, but I'm in the second year of doing it. I'm comfortable with it, and I just try to play bigger when I'm playing against bigger guys.”
The mild-mannered Wragge can be effective against bigger opponents because he's the roughest, toughest Bluejay on the floor. At least any North Carolina fan would tell you that. Wragge caught a lot of flak after last March's NCAA tournament game against the Tar Heels for his foul on point guard Kendall Marshall. Marshall suffered a broken wrist on the play.
Wragge wouldn't touch the “rough-tough” comment.
“I know where that one's coming from,” he said, smiling.
Creighton has done some experimenting in practice with having Wragge play alongside Doug McDermott and Echenique. The Bluejays also used that front line on a limited basis early last season.
“It really gave some teams trouble because of the versatility we have when the three of us are on the floor together,” Wragge said. “It was pretty effective against some teams. We'll just have to see how that goes this season.”
Greg McDermott said the one drawback to playing the three at the same time is that it keeps Grant Gibbs off the floor. The 6-4 Gibbs started every game last season at small forward.
“If he's healthy, he's going to be on the floor quite a bit because of everything he brings us,” McDermott said. “He has the ability to make a lot of things happen.”
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