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How quickly can Creighton reload? It's a big offseason for Greg McDermott

How quickly can Creighton reload? It's a big offseason for Greg McDermott

How quickly can Creighton reload? It's a big offseason for Greg McDermott.

Creighton coach Greg McDermott just led the Jays to their first Sweet 16 since 1974.

But he doesn't get much time to celebrate the accomplishment.

There's work to do. Lots and lots of work.

It's pretty evident that CU's due for a dropoff next season. But how significant will that dip be? And how quickly can Creighton return to the level it maintained from 2019-2021 (a top 25 team that competes for league titles)?

A lot of that depends on what happens over the next six months — and since McDermott's the man in charge, much of this critical stretch will fall on his shoulders.

Here are three storylines to watch:

Coaching hires

Assistant Paul Lusk has officially left Creighton's program for a similar job at Purdue. Assistant Terrence Rencher is being targeted to fill an opening position on Oklahoma State's coaching staff.

So there's likely to be two vacancies on CU's staff.

How McDermott fills those spots will be critical. Lusk had experience and Midwest recruiting ties. Rencher's a people person, with a credibility-boosting playing career and hoops contacts all over the country. They both combined to lead the Jays' defense last year.

The good news? Creighton still has assistant Alan Huss. He was the lead recruiter for almost every guy on the roster (except Shereef Mitchell, Alex O'Connell and Ryan Kalkbrenner) and all three of the 2021 recruits. Plus, Huss has influenced evolving aspects of the Jays' offensive schemes and he's helped develop CU's bigs.

McDermott's made good hires these last few years, Huss included. He'll need to hit again, likely twice.

The culture

Two things stood out about the Jays' core group the last two years: They worked HARD. And they were selfless.

McDermott's office is on the second floor of the Championship Center. He has a balcony that overlooks the practice court. He'd often talk about how he'd regularly hear balls bouncing in the gym as he worked at his desk.

Mitch Ballock usually checked in first in the early morning. Marcus Zegarowski worked out between classes. Guys like Damien Jefferson and Denzel Mahoney were night owls, sometimes coming in after 10 p.m. Christian Bishop stayed after practice. Others followed suit.

Can this new nucleus adopt those same work ethic principles? Creighton prides itself on developing guys and helping them maximize their potential — but it sure helps the process when you have a bunch of gym rats.

The selflessness piece might be even more important, though.

How do you engrain a team-first mentality into a group of ambitious youngsters?

These last two seasons, winning was the priority. Everything else was secondary.

Creighton had one of the best shooters in the country (Ballock), yet he didn't care if he even got to shoot. Zegarowski could have averaged 20 points per night, if he wanted. Jefferson willingly did the dirty work. Mahoney was a 6-foot-5 center as a junior — then, this past season, he transformed himself into a defensive stopper, at the expense of his offensive game. Bishop played out of position for three years.

It's no wonder that squad faced adversity with such poise. The veterans were fully committed to seeing the team succeed.

Now CU has to replicate that mentality within its new leadership group.

Strengthening relationships

"The pain that I caused our players, who look to me as a mentor and as a leader. The pain that I saw in their eyes was immense. That's where my disappointment is in myself. What I've done to some young people that I love very much."

That quote's from McDermott after the Villanova game on March 3. He'd compared his program to a plantation during a locker-room speech four days prior.

He's obviously apologized repeatedly and vowed to take steps to be better. He thanked his team leaders after the season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 for their willingness to accept him back and to keep working together toward their goals.

But the sort of pain that McDermott referenced on March 3 — that heartbreaking betrayal of trust — that doesn't disappear overnight.

Sure, you can suppress it some. Or ignore it. But eventually, you have to deal with it.

So there are more tough conversations ahead for McDermott and the Jays. They'll have to navigate through those together.

*Note here that none of those storylines were related to recruiting or adding players. Obviously, that's important. You need talent to win. But that's just a starting point. And in all honesty, the Jays already have considerable talent on the 2021-22 roster — it's just young and untested. As the last two years of Creighton hoops proved, the intangibles matter.

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