The true impact of eight weeks of organized summer workouts won't be determined until well into the Creighton basketball season.
But the Bluejays stepped away from Thursday's final workout of the summer with a feeling that they are going to be in better shape — physically and mentally — when conditioning drills begin in about a month.
“When we start practice,” Creighton sophomore guard Avery Dingman said, “it's going to be at a much faster pace.”
Teammate Grant Gibbs agreed.
“Things went really well this summer,” he said. “A lot of guys improved and we've improved as a team. These workouts are going to give us a head start, especially defensively. We've put a lot of work in and that's going to allow us to be at a higher level in the fall and when we officially start practice.”
For the first time, the NCAA allowed coaches to be a part of their players' summer routines. In the past, players “voluntarily” gathered on campus in the summer to take part in weight training and conditioning sessions. Their on-court activity was limited to pick-up games that often turned into contests of one-up offensive showmanship.
The rule change allowed coaches to have eight hours of organized activity per week, with two hours being on-the-court instruction. Depending on the week, the Creighton coaches broke the two hours into two or three sessions, with a heavy emphasis on individual-skill development.
Coach Greg McDermott was involved in developing an overall plan for the eight weeks but left much of the on-court work to his assistants. The decision to emphasize skill development, assistant Steve Merfeld said, was made to try to keep the players from “burning out.”
“You can't focus too much on one thing this time of year,” Merfeld said. “When we get back in September, we'll put a heavy emphasis on defense. But we wanted the guys to leave here thinking they had a good summer but not a burned-out summer.”
Merfeld said the biggest advantage he's seen come from the organized sessions is an increase in accountability that wasn't necessarily there during the informal workouts of the past.
“When guys work out on their own, and you're not accountable to somebody, most guys aren't going to do it at a level that's making you better,” Merfeld said. “Now, there are no days off. If you wake up in the morning a little sore, you still have to get to your workout.”
Merfeld said he's seen marked improvement in every player, and he attributes some of that to the time many players put in on their own.
“Bottom line, it's still only two hours,” he said. “If guys want to improve drastically, they know they have to put in more time than that. It has to be more than just showing up for the team thing.”
Dingman said each player met with McDermott in the spring to outline areas to work on in the offseason. In his case, Dingman said it was working on defensive skills, ballhandling and refining his mid-range game.
“I established my role in shooting the ball last year,” said Dingman, who made 42 percent of his shots from beyond the arc as a freshman last season. “If a guy is flying at me, I need to use that pump fake and one dribble for a midrange pull-up (jumper).
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“I've been working on that a lot on my own.”
The six hours per week the players spent in the weight room also yielded benefits, said Dan Bailey, Creighton's strength and conditioning coach.
“We made good progress these eight weeks,” Bailey said. “We tried to pay special attention to their bodies — body weight and body fat — and to the little stuff like hip flexibility and ankle flexibility. You're never going to avoid all injuries but we emphasized getting everyone as healthy as we can get them.”
In some cases, it was a matter of trying to get a player bigger. In others, it was trying to lean up a player without a loss of strength. Center Geoff Groselle is an example of a player that did both.
“Geoff is at 253 (pounds) after coming here last summer at 225,” Bailey said, “and he's also done a good job of leaning up his body.”
Will Artino, the 6-foot-11 sophomore center, weighed 187 pounds when he came to campus two summers ago. Bailey said Artino now weighs 230 and has added considerable strength.
“It's been a great summer but for me, it really hasn't been that much different,” Bailey said. “Our guys have always been here training voluntarily. They've always been able to work with me.”
The players now will be able to head home for a few weeks before school begins at the end of this month. Merfeld passed out workout sheets to the players after Thursday's final workout and told them to enjoy their time off.
But not too much.
“We don't expect that much out of them but they have to do something,” he said. “You can't go home for three weeks and come back expecting not to have lost some of what you've gained in the summer.”
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