The timing of Taylor Stormberg’s first appearance in Saturday’s game against Evansville might have raised the eyebrows of some fans.
So did his second.
Bluejay fans used to seeing the junior guard from Omaha Creighton Prep at the end of games in a mop-up role watched him play a couple of minutes in the first half and a couple more in the second. Though Creighton led by double digits most of the game, the outcome was hardly decided when Stormberg took the court.
Bluejay coach Greg McDermott said afterward that a number of factors contributed to Stormberg playing when he did. The most important? He earned the minutes at practice.
“He had some good prep in practice,” McDermott said, “and he knows our stuff better than the guys he’s competing with for playing time.”
Practice performance is McDermott’s bottom line. Some coaches might cut an individual player some slack for uninspired practice habits. Not McDermott.
“I’m not one of those guys that believe you can show up on game night and we’ll see what happens,” he said. “You better bring it every day in practice to prove to your coaches and your teammates that you can be trusted in any situation.”
A problem for Stormberg this past semester is that academic demands forced him to miss about two practices a week. He came out of two-a-day practices during the first week of preseason practice, when school was not in session, playing as well as any of the other players competing for the backup point-guard role.
He lost ground when school resumed, but McDermott met with Stormberg before Christmas and issued a challenge. Get into the gym, the coach told Stomberg, and put in some extra work on your game and your conditioning.
Stormberg took his coach’s advice to heart.
“I shot about 650 or 700 shots in the days before Christmas,” he said. “That’s continued since we got back here for practice. I also worked on my ball-handling and my conditioning, trying to get back in shape.
“My (academic) schedule lightens up in the second semester, so hopefully I can build on what I’m doing now.”
Given a chance to walk-on in 2009 by former coach Dana Altman, Stormberg has embraced the role his coaches have asked him to play. Most of his court time has been logged as a member of the scout team in practice, and he has attacked that assignment with a high level of enthusiasm and intensity.
Before Saturday’s game, he had played 93 minutes in the past 2½ seasons. While tacking on another four minutes against Evansville might not seem significant, Stormberg realized the timing of the minutes were.
“Coach told me before the (holiday) break that if I put in the effort and I put in the time that I’d see the results,” Stormberg said. “I got some minutes when Mac first came here my redshirt freshman year, and I’ve been working hard ever since then.
“Getting a chance is a dream come true, and it just shows that patience and hard work pays off in the end.”
A finance-accounting major, Stormberg is smart enough to know that the situation Creighton faced Saturday might have contributed to his getting a chance. Evansville runs a motion offense that is difficult to defend if a player hasn’t faced it before.
Stormberg had, while true freshman Andre Yates and redshirt freshman Nevin Johnson had not. Yates did play a minute but McDermott said he preferred going with the more experienced hand against the Purple Aces.
“Taylor has been around,” McDermott said. “He understands where we have to get the ball and he knows what he can do and what he can’t do. He can shoot an open shot, but other than that, he just plays the game.
“My trust level with Taylor is high because he understands everything. He’s been through it. Andre is still learning but when you’ve never defended Evansville, you don’t want to throw a freshman that hasn’t done it into the fire. That’s not fair to him.”
McDermott said game situations could dictate Stormberg’s playing time in upcoming games.
“There are games where we’re going to need a guy that can attack and make some plays and be a little more athletic defensively,” McDermott said. “In other games, we’re just going to need someone that’s solid and will make the right plays.
“I’ve got confidence in Taylor, but I also have confidence in Andre and Nevin and Geoff (Groselle). Hopefully, when the situation calls for their number to be called, they’ll be prepared to contribute.”
Stormberg’s playing time against Evansville came with a bonus. He found himself open in the corner and buried a 3-point shot that put the Bluejays above the 75-point mark required for free pizza for season ticket-holders.
“It felt fantastic when it went in,” Stormberg said. “I’ve been shooting so many in practice with nobody there that it’s a confidence booster when you knock one down with somebody running at you.”
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