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Creighton will look much different next season, but its standards won't change

Creighton will look much different next season, but its standards won't change

Creighton coach Greg McDermott looks back on all the outgoing Bluejay seniors have accomplished.

Late in Creighton's season-ending loss to Gonzaga on Sunday, coach Greg McDermott gathered up a group of CU reserves just after a timeout.

He huddled the five guys together, sensing that there was enough time for one quick message to players who'll soon be responsible for helping the program reload after this Sweet 16 run.

Because before next year, the Jays are going to lose a ton of production.

Three starters. Maybe four. Maybe more.

But the goals won't change, McDermott said. And senior Alex O'Connell and sophomores Antwann Jones, Shereef Mitchell and Jett Canfield — who all encircled McDermott in that late-game moment — now have firsthand experience to reference as they look to lead the next generation of Bluejay stars.

"We want to get back to this point," McDermott said. "There's a lot of effort that goes into that and work that goes into that.

"Obviously, we're going to lose some really, really good players, and we've got to regroup from that, but our expectation is that we want to compete for championships year in and year out."

Mitch Ballock, Denzel Mahoney and Damien Jefferson are the seniors expected to move on. Center Jacob Epperson already announced he plans to retire from the game.

The Jays have been insulated a bit from the recent rise in transfers within the sport — CU's had four scholarship players transfer out in four years.

But with immediate eligibility likely to be granted across the board, this offseason may very well feature an unprecedented amount of program-to-program moves. ESPN reporter Jeff Borzello tweeted Monday that more than 1,000 players had already entered the transfer portal.

Plus, there's the question surrounding Marcus Zegarowski's status.

The talented point guard entered the season on the NBA radar — ESPN analyst Jonathan Givony rated Zegarowski as a second-round pick in a mock draft last fall.

It's been clear for months now that Zegarowski, who'll turn 23 in August, will have to make a decision on his next steps at some point this spring. The first-team All-Big East performer said during the season that he wouldn't start assessing that process until after the season ended.

The NCAA has yet to announce a timeline for players testing the NBA draft waters. Typically, the NCAA's withdrawal date to maintain collegiate eligibility comes one or two weeks after the last day of the NBA combine, which is set to take place from June 21-27.

The 2021 NBA draft is scheduled for July 29.

McDermott indicated after the game that he'll give Zegarowski all the time he needs to decide on his future.

"We'll support whatever (Zegarowski) chooses to do 100% because he's certainly given his heart and soul to the Creighton Bluejays," McDermott said. "Whether he's back (for) a year or not, we really appreciate the impact that he's had on our program."

At this early point in the offseason, CU projects to carry a roster into the 2021-22 season with six scholarship freshmen.

Ryan Kalkbrenner scored 5.9 points per game as a reserve in his debut season — but this first year will not impact his eligibility clock, because of the pandemic. So Kalkbrenner still has four collegiate seasons to play.

Versatile guard Rati Andronikashvili and 6-foot-9 wing Modestas Kancleris both suffered ACL tears in the preseason. They have four years left, too.

Creighton's 2021 recruiting class includes point guard Ryan Nembhard, shooting guard John Christofilis and wing Mason Miller.

Those freshmen are projected to join the second-unit guys whom McDermott asked late in Sunday's game to cherish the moment. That's O'Connell, Jones, Mitchell and Canfield.

Junior Christian Bishop, who averaged 10.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in his final seven games, also has eligibility remaining. He's spent his career as an undersized center in CU's system but could perhaps experiment with an expanded role next year, depending on the Jays' roster construction.

Creighton will look different next year, undoubtedly.

But the standards have been established. The Sweet 16 run made that clear, according to McDermott.

"It shows what's possible," McDermott said. "If you get a group of guys that will fight for each other and stay committed to a common goal, a lot of special things can happen."

Gonzaga jumps out to early lead, overwhelms Creighton in Sweet 16 matchup

Photos: Creighton vs. Gonzaga

Omaha World-Herald: Local Sports

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