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Shatel: These Jays made history; now what does the future hold for Creighton?
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COMMENTARY

Shatel: These Jays made history; now what does the future hold for Creighton?

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Guard Marcus Zegarowski’s status is one of the unknowns about the Bluejays’ future. But Zegarowski and his teammates made a memorable run that could build a legacy for the program moving forward.

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

They deserved a better ending, but sometimes you don’t get to write it.

Sometimes, the best team in the country has the Sharpie.

There’s no shame in losing to the Gonzaga machine. All that this classy Creighton group could do was walk off one last time with heads high, tip their hats to the winner and thank everyone for the honor and privilege.

The honor and privilege was all ours, gents.

The best part was, they couldn’t lose. Their legacy already was written. Their legend intact. Their impact on a campus, city and fan base forever engraved.

It was an amazing run. Historic.

But in the blink of a late March Sunday, it was over. The end of an era.

Now what?

This season changed Creighton basketball. The future is filled with hope but also uncertainty. The impact of the actions will have to be sorted out.

First, there’s the Sweet 16 legacy. That’s a big one.

By making the second weekend, it felt like the transition to the Big East level was complete.

This is what Big East teams expect. And truth be told, some are aiming for the Final Four.

That's a process. It might take awhile for Creighton to see the Sweet 16 as an expectation. But it will no longer be viewed as an impenetrable wall.

The Sweet 16 will be stamped on T-shirts, on the wall of the basketball facility and in future pitches to recruits.

Kids want to go where they can play on TV. And they want to go where they can go deep in the NCAA tourney.

In some ways, last week was like graduation for Creighton basketball. This team left that legacy to the school like a gift.

But it will be interesting to see how quickly Creighton is able to build on this momentum.

Next season is already going to be different. You don’t take Damien Jefferson, Mitch Ballock and Denzel Mahoney off the floor and not feel the void.

But what of Marcus Zegarowski?

The general expectation is that the floor leader is ready to move on. After knee surgery last spring and a season full of various injuries and hurdles, Zegarowski performed at a high level down the stretch.

He likely turned more heads and made some money Sunday, scoring 19 points and carrying his team for stretches.

Various 2021 NBA mock drafts have Zegarowski going in the second round or undrafted. But he’ll have all spring to do workouts and combines and show that he’s 100 percent.

The Z man is a question mark going forward.

Anyone else?

In the age of the transfer portal, there’s always movement. But at CU, you have to wonder about the impact of Greg McDermott's comments.

Credit the Jays for moving forward. The team could have gone one of two ways after McDermott’s “plantation” remarks three weeks ago.

They chose to stay together, play hard and finish the season the right way. The Sweet 16 was their reward.

McDermott said the players forgave him and he was grateful. Is the issue over with the players? Or did some put their feelings on the back burner until after the season was over?

Could it cause some to transfer?

What will it do to recruiting? CU lost a coveted commitment from four-star guard Ty Ty Washington after Mac's comments. It goes without saying that rival recruiters will bring up the topic.

And how might all this affect McDermott’s career timeline and how long he wants to stay at Creighton?

After the incident, McDermott said he offered to resign but the players didn’t want that. After the first-round NCAA win over UCSB, the coach said he wants to work at being a better person at CU and in the community.

That seemed to indicate that he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Likewise, when McDermott was reinstated after the one-game suspension, Creighton A.D. Bruce Rasmussen said the coach is going to participate in a campus program called the Racial Equity Institute after the season.

So Creighton and McDermott will move forward.

One last thing on the future agenda: the NCAA investigation into 11 programs, including CU, which continues to drag on from 2019. With the mess that is the NCAA, who knows what will come of that or when — if ever?

There will be talent in the Creighton program. How soon can the Jays come back to the Sweet 16? Good question.

Here’s a tip: Next time, see if you can get in the Sweet 16 bracket with Oral Roberts or Syracuse. Not the can’t-miss, can’t-lose Zags.

These Jays didn’t lose. To the end, they showed us how it was done. Playing through a pandemic. Staying three weeks in hotel quarantine. Giving their best to Gonzaga.

Their shots wouldn’t fall, but their heads shouldn’t either.

We’ll never see them again on the court together. But we’ll see them every time Creighton plays basketball. They left the bar higher than how they found it. That’s how you leave.


Photos: Creighton vs. Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament

Omaha World-Herald: Local Sports

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