Creighton recruit Ronnie Harrell has Feb. 15 circled on his calendar.
That’s when Harrell and his Denver East teammates square off against Omaha Central at the Heartland Hoops tournament in Grand Island. In addition to matching up against Nebraska’s top-ranked team, Harrell figures the game might give some Creighton fans a chance to check out his act.
“I’m just fortunate to have this opportunity,” Harrell said. “I’m pretty excited to see the fans. I’ve only interacted with them through Twitter, but it will be nice to meet some of them in person and get to know what is going to be my family for the next four years.”
Harrell and Creighton’s other fall signee, Leon Gilmore, are closing in on the end of one chapter of their basketball careers while trying to prepare for the next one. The Bluejays’ success in their first season of Big East competition adds to their excitement.
“Right now, I’m focused on high school and trying to help my team win,” Gilmore said. “But I know when the time comes, I’m going to be excited. I can’t wait to get up there.”
Both Gilmore and Harrell are making major contributions to successful high school teams this season. Gilmore, a 6-foot-7, 215-pound forward, is the leading scorer for his Manvel (Texas) High School squad that took a 25-4 record into Tuesday night’s game.
Gilmore is averaging 17.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game this season. He has scored as many as 32 points in a contest, but Manvel coach Greg Devers said a mid-December game in which Gilmore scored seven points illustrates one of his best attributes.
“Leon scored those seven points in the first quarter and didn’t score another point the rest of the game,” Devers said. “We won the game easily, but some guys would come away upset because they didn’t get their stats.
“That’s not Leon. He is so unselfish. He passes up a lot of points to give his teammates chances. But then when we do need him, he’s capable of scoring a lot of points for us.”
Harrell, a still-growing 6-7 shooting guard, missed three weeks this season with a broken left wrist. He was injured in a Jan. 7 game but returned with a 22-point performance Jan. 30. He then scored a season-high 31 in a victory last Friday.
“He’s working his way back into it right now,” East coach Rudy Carey said. “It was his shooting hand that he fractured, but we haven’t seen any signs of it bothering him. He’s back to shooting well.”
Harrell missed six games for East, which is 16-3 but unbeaten against Colorado competition (11-0) and ranked first in the state’s largest class. He is averaging 17.2 points and 1.7 assists while shooting 38 percent from 3-point range.
“I’ve been shooting the ball well,” Harrell said, “but a lot of that is our point guards have been doing a good job of finding me for open shots.”
Harrell was a point guard when he entered high school, but that was before he grew eight inches. He is projected to compete for playing time at either shooting guard or small forward with the Bluejays.
Harrell’s stock has risen since he signed with CU. Carey said Harrell is now rated the No. 2 player in the state, and he is No. 71 on ESPN’s list of the top 100 high school prospects.
The No. 71 rating is “a blessing,” Harrell said, “but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my coaches and my teammates. I feel like I’m 71, but they’re 71, too, for helping me get to this point. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”
Harrell’s long-range shooting is what caught the eyes of Creighton’s coaches. He said he’s working hard on trying to broaden his overall game.
“I feel like I’m getting to the rim easier,” said Harrell, who has gained about 10 pounds this season and now weighs 187. “I’m getting stronger, and I’m working on more ways to score than just shooting. I’m trying to develop my midrange game and my passing, and I think that’s coming along.”
Carey said Harrell also is improving on defense.
“He’s been much more defensive-conscious,” Carey said. “We work on defense quite a bit, and if Ronnie has a deficiency, it’s probably been on the defensive end. He’s working hard to improve in that area. He has all the tools and intangibles to be a good defender.”
In addition to adding weight, Carey said, Harrell appears to have grown taller.
“We list him at 6-7, but he looks 6-8 to me,” Carey said. “He’s still growing, and I think he still has an inch or two in him.”
Like Harrell, Gilmore is working to broaden his game for college.
“I need to improve my ball-handling and get my jump shot more consistent,” said Gilmore, who is No. 121 on Rivals.com’s top 150 list of prospects. “I think I’m playing more under control this year. I’m trying to be patient and not force things just to get points.
“I’m playing to the flow of the team.”
Gilmore’s school, located in suburban Houston, is ranked No. 21 in Texas’ largest class. Manvel, which has been open eight years, is closing in on its first outright district championship.
“We’ve having a good year,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore has a lot to do with that success, Devers said.
“He’s improved his 3-point shooting and his ball-handling skills,” Devers said. “And his defense has really improved. A lot of times we’re asking Leon to guard smaller guards out there on the 3-point line, and he’s been doing a great job of that.”
Gilmore is shooting 58 percent from the field and 31 percent from beyond the arc. Devers said Gilmore needs to continue working on his midrange game, mainly because it’s not something he needs to use in high school.
“When Leon goes to the basket, he’s hard to stop,” Devers said. “He does put on quite a show out there.”
Creighton will lose four seniors off this season’s team: All-America forward Doug McDermott, forward Ethan Wragge and guards Jahenns Manigat and Grant Gibbs. Harrell and Gilmore know they’ll have an opportunity to contribute immediately as freshmen.
“Seeing what they’re doing this season just makes it all the more exciting for me,” Harrell said. “Coming in after Doug and Jahenns and the other guys leave is going to be demanding, but I feel Leon and I will be able to do our part.”