The one statistic that best sizes up Will Artino's contributions to Creighton's exhibition win last week over the University of Mary is 42-6.
That's how much the Bluejays outscored the Marauders in the 15 minutes the 6-foot-11 sophomore was on the court.
“Will's progress speaks for itself,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “I thought the minutes he played with our top group were very efficient. He got a little sloppy in the mop-up minutes, but he's made good strides.”
Artino scored nine points and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds in Creighton's final tune-up before opening the season Friday against North Texas. While the performance came in a meaningless exhibition against a Division II opponent, it did serve notice that Artino could be ready to make greater contributions than he did as a redshirt freshman in 2011-12.
Artino played an average of 7.2 minutes while seeing action last season in 34 of Creighton's 35 games. He averaged 2.9 points and 2.1 rebounds while playing primarily as Gregory Echenique's backup.
He's ready to again fill that role — or any other the coaches want him to play — for a team that will begin the season ranked 15th and 16th in the national polls.
“I'm ready to do whatever they ask me to do,” Artino said.
That comment produced a smile on the face of Steve Merfeld, the Creighton assistant who works primarily with big men. To Merfeld, it's a sign of Artino's growing maturity and willingness to carve out a role that best suits the team.
Merfeld has watched Artino's confidence grow as he squares off daily against the physical Echenique. Artino also has the skills to play power forward, but that's where All-American Doug McDermott plays.
“Will has a couple of guys ahead of him that are pretty good,” Merfeld said. “The good thing is that he hasn't let that affect his development. He shows up every day with the idea to get better. He's really improved his footwork and his strength.”
Artino showed up at Creighton in the summer of 2010 weighing only 180 pounds. He now weighs in at 230 after adding 15 pounds since the end of last season.
Artino said the strength he's added in the weight room has left him more confident. So has the experience he gained.
“Last year I just tried to fit in and not make mistakes,” he said. “Now, I feel like I have a lot more freedom to attack the basket. I feel I've made some improvements inside in my finishing around the basket.
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“I also feel like I've grown up a lot. I have a year under my belt, and I kind of know what to expect. I think all that gives me more of a chance to make an impact.”
Artino's versatility has intrigued Merfeld since he joined the program after earning all-state honors as a senior at Waukee (Iowa) High School. Artino is Creighton's best passing big man. He can run the floor and knock down shots from the perimeter.
What he hasn't been able to do is show the daily consistency in practice to earn more playing time in games.
“I've had my ups and downs,” Artino said. “Everyone is going to have their bad days and good days. It's just something you expect when you're a part of college athletics. You just have to keep working and take things in stride.”
That hard work has produced a greater sense of trust, both from the coaches and teammates.
“We had a practice early this week where he got 21 shots,” Merfeld said. “That's saying something about his teammates believing who he is and in the development he's made.”
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