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Early impressions of Creighton's freshman class

Early impressions of Creighton's freshman class

Creighton basketball opens practice with a wealth of youth this season.

The Jays reeled in their best recruiting class in recent history, and now those five scholarship guys are on campus and competing in preseason practice.

Any or all of them could play in a month.

Why? Well, they're good. But also, consider Creighton's roster situation.

The Jays bring back three rotation players from last year: point guard Shereef Mitchell, wing Alex O'Connell and center Ryan Kalkbrenner. They'll be in the mix.

Transfer big men Ryan Hawkins (a vocal leader, shooting marksman and savvy defensive asset) and KeyShawn Feazell (a physical body, skilled passer and a presence at the rim) look like they're both going to fit into the rotation, too.

That's five.

Creighton needs at least three more for a full rotation. Maybe four more. Maybe five.

Enter the freshmen.

(Let's note, too, that combo guard Rati Andronikashvili and wing Modestas Kancleris have returned to practice after suffering ACL tears a year ago. They're technically freshmen as well. Andronikashvili was actually going to break into the rotation last year before he got hurt. So keep an eye on those two as they get back to top shape.)

But back to the true freshmen.

Creighton needs these guys.

The truth is, though, they're destined to have up-and-down seasons. They're going to hit the proverbial freshman wall — maybe more than once. And they likely won't showcase their full capabilities until February, if at all this year.

"You look back, there haven't been a lot of (Creighton) freshmen that have taken it by storm," coach Greg McDermott said. "Doug (McDermott) was probably one of the exceptions. But you look back at Mitch Ballock and Ty-Shon Alexander they both struggled a little as freshmen. It took Marcus Zegarowski 12-15 games before he really hit his stride the freshman year. There's a learning curve."

Here's the true-freshman-year numbers from the All-Big East players who began their college careers at Creighton...

Doug McDermott: 14.9 points per game (52.5% shooting), 7.2 rebounds per game, 0.5 assist-to-turnover rate in 39 games as a starter

Khyri Thomas: 6.2 points per game (47.1% shooting), 3.7 rebounds per game, 1.24 assist-to-turnover rate in 34 games (28 starts)

Ty-Shon Alexander: 5.5 points per game (41.8% shooting), 2.1 rebounds per game, 1.41 assist-to-turnover rate in 33 games (one start)

Marcus Zegarowski: 10.4 points per game (45.3% shooting), 3.2 rebounds per game, 1.86 assist-to-turnover rate in 32 games (16 starts)

It can take some guys longer than others to adjust. Even the best players dealt with growing pains as freshmen.

The five rookies on Creighton's roster certainly have promise. They're highly rated and they've enjoyed moments of high-level success in prep and AAU circles. So we'll see how they progress. It is early, after all.

A few notes from practice on each:

Ryan Nembhard: Incredible passer. He has so many ways to deliver the ball to open players — it'll be the thinnest of windows, yet he still figures out how to make the pass. And he's extremely accurate with those passes. ... He's also really comfortable in ball screen situations, engaging the help defender and making the proper reads.

Trey Alexander: He might have the best chance of the rookies to be a starter on opening night. Maybe that's based more on CU's depth chart. But still, Alexander's talented. A three-level scorer who already seems to have a decent understanding of how things work in this system. He's active and long defensively, so he has potential there, too.

John Christofilis: Looks like he's going to become one of those shooters who you just can't leave. He's already coming off screens and firing away on the move during five-on-five settings. It'll be interesting to see him showcase more of his game as the preseason unfolds.

Mason Miller: There was a moment during a rebounding drill Saturday where Miller's athleticism was on display — he elevated over everyone to grab the ball off the rim. One of those "wow" moments. He's listed at just 180 pounds. So there's strength training to do. But he can score. At 6-foot-8, he's not afraid to launch 3s.

Arthur Kaluma: During the five-on-five portion of practice Saturday, Kaluma spent a good majority of his time on the court inside the paint. Battling for post position, crashing the glass, finishing in different ways. His perimeter game will continue to evolve. But at least for now, he's comfortable operating on the interior. Which is a good thing for Creighton — which needs as much physicality as it can get.

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