Creighton coach Greg McDermott is still measuring the practice progress Devin Brooks and James Milliken are making in baby steps.
“They’ve had a lot to absorb in a short amount of time,” McDermott said.
What is encouraging is that Brooks and Milliken are moving past the stage where each step forward was accompanied by one step back. The junior college transfers said that after five practices, they’ve grown more comfortable with the greater demands.
“I’m getting things down to where they’re becoming routine now,” Milliken said. “I’m picking things up, and my defense has gotten tons better from the first day to now.”
Like Milliken, Brooks has found the attention to detail the coaches demand, especially on defense, to be a major adjustment after his two years at Iowa Western Community College.
The Bluejays are trying to master the defensive techniques the coaches think can help offset some of the increased athleticism they will encounter in the Big East.
“Here, everything matters,” Brooks said. “In juco, things weren’t as structured and as serious as they are here. If you’re an inch or a foot or half a millimeter away from being where you’re supposed to be, it matters.
“You have to be on point and pay attention to every detail or else the coaches will point you out.”
Brooks has heard his share of discouraging words in the first five practices, but the 6-foot-2 guard from New York City knows that is part of the game at this level.
“Sometimes you want to take it personal, but I know that at the end of the day they’re just trying to make me better,” Brooks said. “They don’t want to see me do bad. They want the best for me, and I try to listen and do what they want me to do.”
Brooks has been able to show the offensive skills that attracted the Creighton coaches. As a sophomore, he averaged 15.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists while earning third-team junior college All-America honors.
Milliken, a 6-2 guard from Siler City, N.C., has shown the sweet stroke that allowed him to shoot 42 percent from 3-point range and average 18.4 points last season at Cowley County (Kan.) Junior College.
McDermott said he expects the progress of both to accelerate now that the Bluejays will be practicing daily. The first five practices were spread throughout a two-week period as Division I teams this season took advantage of an additional 12 days to prepare for their first games.
“The fact that we were practicing every other day or every third day was actually a negative for them,” McDermott said. “You don’t get the carryover as much as if you were doing it every single day.
“Although they’ll be taxed more physically starting Friday, I think from a mental standpoint the picture will become a little more clear because they’ll have to do it every single day.”
Creighton started fall break Friday and will practice twice daily in the next week. Milliken said the veterans have warned him and the other newcomers to expect an increase in intensity.
“They said there’s going to be even more attention to detail,” he said.
Dealing with greater structure, on and off the court, has been Milliken’s biggest adjustment from junior college.
“Time management is very important here,” he said.
Though his junior college coach emphasized defense, Milliken said, he’s been surprised by the focus that his new coaches place on that end of the court.
“My junior college coach used to tell us that we wouldn’t work this hard at a Division I practice, that it would be easier,” Milliken said. “He was a real defensive guy, but we really get after it on defense here.
“When we’re doing defensive drills, I pay attention to the veterans and use them as mentors. I watch how hard they compete on D and try to do what they do.”
Brooks also thought he worked hard in junior college but discovered the intensity ratcheted up a notch or two when he got to Creighton.
“People told me how crazy it was going to be, but I didn’t expect this,” Brooks said. “I struggled at first, but I’m way better now than when I first got here. I see a lot of improvement in my game, and I’m just taking it a day at a time.”
That’s exactly what McDermott wants at this point.
“Every individual is different, but this takes time,” he said. “These guys are learning a whole new system, a different style of play and different terminology than what they’re accustomed to. In a lot of ways they’re not that different than the high school guys except they’ve competed against better competition.
“In time, they’re going to help us. There’s a greater need for some point guard minutes right now than maybe on the wing.”
CU coaches signed Milliken last spring before they knew Grant Gibbs would be returning with a sixth season of eligibility.
“All of a sudden, there’s a very experienced player ahead of James on the pecking order,” McDermott said. “But he and Devin just need to keep working and get a better understanding.
“The roles on this team will start to take shape in the next couple of weeks. Once you figure out your role, it’s just a matter of accepting that role. I think they will. They both want to be a part of a winner, and they both can contribute to winning.”