Eclectic. Bold. Colorful.
You could say those things and more about the Bluejays, and that would only describe their choices of footwear. No two Jays are interchangeable. There are no perfect parts. Yet each player brings his own signature quality to the arena.
There's Jahenns Manigat's tireless defensive energy, the wide-eyed, shot-swatting glare of Gregory Echenique, Ethan Wragge's straight-out-of-PlayStation shot and the offensive genius of Doug McDermott.
There's the unorthodox-yet-effective post presence of Will Artino and the 0-to-60-in-a-snap motor of Austin Chatman.
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There's a disrupter — Andre Yates — a trusty walk-on — Taylor Stormberg — a rangy, 3-point sniper — Avery Dingman and the promise of future contributions in the youngsters at the end of the bench.
There's a guy who can do anything and everything and does it every night: Grant Gibbs.
And, of course, there's the enduring optimism of Josh Jones.
Put it all together, and you have a team capable of beating Duke. Or losing to Albany. Rest assured, though, that anytime they get together, it's going to be a trip.
And you can write that down.
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WHAT A LONG, STRANGE TRIP IT'S BEEN
So how did we get here? Every season has its highs and lows, but who could've predicted the defining moments of 2012-13? The Jays started fast, nearly fell off the tracks, then found a groove just in time to accomplish their regular-season goals.
On a roll in Vegas
Mid-majors don't get many chances to make a splash in November. So when Creighton scheduled the Las Vegas Invitational over Thanksgiving weekend, it needed to take advantage. Night one: Wisconsin. Doug McDermott scored 30 points, Ethan Wragge added 17. The Jays pulled away in the second half for an 84-74 win -— they're the only team all year that has eclipsed 75 against the Badgers. Night two: Arizona State. Doug had 29 more and Creighton rolled 87-73. The tournament validated CU's top-15 ranking and showed just how dangerous its offense could be.
He's the ultimate energy booster. Mr. Positive. But when Creighton's fifth-year senior from Omaha Central collapsed on the Devaney Center floor, life got in the way of the Jays' dream season. Josh Jones' condition: an atrial flutter. He was still active on the bench, but he never played another minute. His absence left a hole in Creighton's rotation — Jones was capable of sparking the offense, as he showed in an 18-point outburst against UAB — and took away an emotional leader. The Jays would not easily recover.
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All seemed well on a Wednesday night in Des Moines. McDermott was cooking up one of his 17-point first halves. The Jays, pushing for a top-10 ranking a week earlier, were out to an early lead. Then Drake went on runs of seven and 12 points. McDermott got sick. Reserve guards were boring unchallenged through holes in the CU defense. Before you knew it, the Jays were en route to a second straight loss and headed for a stretch of five defeats in eight games. A 19-point loss at Indiana State. A home loss to Illinois State in front of a national television audience. By the time they got punked at St. Mary's in the final BracketBuster, the Jays had squandered a 17-1 start and wasted the RPI and NCAA seeding cache they'd built up.
Winner take all. One game for a championship against archrival Wichita State. Doesn't get much better, right? Especially when your star plays the best game of his life. McDermott took 18 shots on March 2. He made 15. The Bluejays, before one of the best crowds in arena history, hit a stunning 70 percent from the field, including 22 of 26 inside the arc. When it was over, Grant Gibbs, Gregory Echenique and Josh Jones said goodbye to the crowd. McDermott? The junior didn't speak. But when he climbed the ladder to cut off a piece of the net, fans chanted, “One more year!” If indeed he does declare for the NBA, he left Omaha in style.
The St. Louis march
Few programs in America have dominated their conference tournament the way Creighton has the Valley. St. Louis is home away from home. This time, with reports of CU's move to the Big East swirling through the Scottrade Center, the Jays summoned their best again. Day one, backed by a rowdy crowd from Omaha, they toyed with Drake before pulling away. Day two, they humiliated Indiana State. Finally, a grudge match with the Shockers. Creighton led by 12 with four minutes left, then held off a Wichita State rally. Jahenns Manigat's driving layup — followed by McDermott's defensive stand — sealed Creighton's last Valley championship. A week later, CU was bound for the Big East.
Check out scenes from the photo shoot The World-Herald had with the Creighton men's basketball team: