Creighton was good before, but Baylor Scheierman can be part of Bluejays elite

When Baylor Scheierman played grassroots football for the OSA Crusaders in Nebraska, he would often look up in the stands and see Creighton coach Greg McDermott staring at him. Well, McDermott wasn’t watching him, really. He was there to recruit Scheierman’s teammate, Shereef Mitchell, a 6-foot guard from Omaha. Although Mitchell ended up signing with Creighton, Scheierman never had a real conversation with McDermott, much less a scholarship offer from him. The only Division I school to offer Scheierman was South Dakota State, which Scheierman committed to after his junior season at Aurora High. ” They were not Great wrong,” he says of all the top coaches who let him down. “It certainly didn’t shake my confidence, but it made me realize how hard I had to work to get where I wanted to go.”

It was a much different story on April 25 when Scheierman, a 6-6 junior guard, entered the transfer gate after a stellar season with the Jackrabbits. He had gone from averaging 6.0 points on 24.7 percent shooting 3-pointers as a freshman to 16.2 points on 46.9 percent to go along with 4.5 assists. Scheierman was named Summit League Player of the Year and led the Jackrabbits to a 30-5 record and a berth in the NCAA Tournament, where they lost 66-57 in the first round to Providence. His decision to enter the portal had already been reported by the media, so when he officially signed up, the coaches were ready to pounce. Chris Beard, John Calipari, Eric Musselman, Jon Scheyer and Bill Self, to name a few, blew up his cell phone within the first hour.

McDermott was also among the first to call. He too believes that he was not Great wrong not to recruit Scheierman from high school, but he figured out that Scheierman was absolutely right about Creighton’s happy three-way system. “In high school, he shot well but not very well,” McDermott said. “He was really thin and defensively he was positionless at our level. But to his credit, he accepted the only scholarship offer he had at South Dakota State and built an incredible career for himself.

McDermott knew he was up against big names in recruiting Scheierman, but he had inherent advantages. Training at a school two hours away from Aurora was the most important. McDermott is also close to South Dakota State coach Eric Henderson, who played for McDermott at Wayne State, a Division II school in Nebraska, and was a graduate assistant under him at Iowa State. . McDermott and his wife are godparents to Henderson’s eldest. Additionally, McDermott coached SDSU assistant coach Bryan Peterson at Iowa State.

After a few phone conversations with Scheierman and his parents, McDermott and his team flew to Atlanta to meet with Scheierman and Austin Walton, the agent Scheierman hired to guide him through the NBA draft process. Scheierman entered the draft on March 24 and he decided to enter the portal a month later to maximize his options. Scheierman and Walton withstood the initial bombardment of calls, surveyed every possible destination, and whittled the list down to 10 schools and then down to five. On Tuesday, Scheierman’s basketball journey finally came full circle when he committed to Creighton.

“Creighton has a system that I could really thrive in,” Scheierman said. “I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot in the state of South Dakota. I’m not sure there’s anything else I can do there that would help my professional stock. If I don’t stay in the draft, what people will want to see is how I play against a higher level of competition every night. And I really think we can win big there.

It’s not guaranteed that Scheierman will end up with the Bluejays, but it’s the most likely scenario. He was not invited to the NBA draft – an indication that he is not considered by the league as a likely first-round pick – but he will attend the G League Elite Camp in Chicago on the 16th. and May 17. From there, Scheierman will work for as many NBA teams as possible to increase his stock. He has until June 1 to decide what he wants to do. “If he feels he can get some guaranteed money, he’ll stay in the draft,” McDermott said. “We understood that on entering.”

Even before Scheierman’s commitment, the Bluejays were heading into a season with unusually high expectations. Creighton was one of the youngest teams in the country last season –– ranked 310th in experience by KenPom.com — and had a 13-8 (5-5 Big East) record at the start of February. From there, the Bluejays went 10-4, losing to Villanova in the Big East Tournament Finals and eventual champion Kansas, 79-72, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The fact that the Bluejays trailed the Jayhawks by one point with a minute remaining was notable given that they were missing two important starters: 6-foot point guard Ryan Nembhard, the Big East rookie of the year who fractured his right wrist Feb. 23, and 7-foot sophomore center Ryan Kalkbrenner, who partially tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee late in the first-round overtime win over State from San Diego.

Mitchell, who averaged 3.5 points in 16.5 minutes off the bench, also only played six games before taking a medical redshirt due to various injuries. McDermott calls last season “one of the most rewarding seasons of my 33 years in this business” because of the fight his young guys showed through all that adversity. “We had a lot of built-in excuses, but we never fell back on that,” he said. “We were very connected as a group, and that allowed us to grow very quickly.”

Creighton is out of two of his top three scorers, but is expected to return three starters and five of his top eight players from last season — six of nine if you include Mitchell, who is expected to be medically cleared in June. The Bluejays have only been ranked in the AP’s preseason Top 25 four times in their history, and their highest ranking was No. 11 in 2020. Next fall, they could top that number. considerably. Creighton was already high on nearly every pre-season rankings. (It was number 11 in Athleticismis way too early in the top 25 on April 5.) If Scheierman ends up in Omaha, the Bluejays will likely be a top-five preseason team and could be seriously considered for No. 1.

“I think we all felt we had everything we needed for a deep run,” Kalkbrenner said. “Now you bring in a player like Baylor – it just adds to that in our mind. It’s up to us to show everyone what we are capable of.


Greg McDermott, center, got the most out of a young Creighton team last season. (Chris Jones / USA Today)

Kalkbrenner will also have a major impact on whether the Bluejays live up to the hype. He’s one of those rare rim protectors who can block a ton of shots (2.6 per game) without committing a ton of fouls (1.4 per game, and only once has he committed more than three). Kalkbrenner was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year, and his mix of size and trickery allowed McDermott to field the best defensive team Creighton had had in a long time. The Bluejays were ranked eighth in the nation in 2-point defense (43.6%) and 19th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. It’s Creighton’s highest ranking in this category since KenPom.com began tracking efficiency stats in 1997.

Meanwhile, the Bluejays continued to haul a ton of 3s on the offensive side (19.7 attempts per game, second-highest in the Big East) but missed far more than usual (31.3%, which was by far their worst percentage in McDermott’s 12 seasons there). Scheierman’s arrival would be a game-changer, but he won’t be the only significant addition. McDermott released another veteran sniper from the portal in Francisco Farabello, who shot 40.2% on 3 for three seasons as a reserve at TCU, and the coach calls redshirt rookie Mason Miller a forward 6-8 from Tennessee who is the son of NBA veteran Mike Miller, “our team’s best shooter.”

Then there is the expected improvement from last year’s neophytes. Along with Nembhard, 6-7 forward Arthur Kaluma (10.4 points, 5.4 rebounds) and 6-4 guard Trey Alexander (7.4 points, 2.5 assists) were named to the first-team year of the Big East. Their numbers were impressive, but their maturity and perseverance proved even more valuable as the season progressed. “I give those freshmen a lot of credit because they were extremely hard workers,” Kalkbrenner said. “We never gave up in games. That’s a big reason we’re so close. We all wanted to win for each other. Everything fell into place and by the end of the year we were really cooking.

All this heat presents a very high class problem. Scheierman might have turned down players like Kansas, Kentucky and Duke to play in his home country, but those programs are used to high expectations. McDermott knows his players will have to adjust to the new weather. “I was on both sides of this game,” he said with a laugh. “Usually when you’re picked eighth or ninth there’s a reason, so I prefer to be in that situation. It’ll be part of the maturation process in this group to understand how well you need to be when you get the target. on your back. It will be something that we will have to learn to adapt to.”

The Bluejays’ most recent commitment has also been on both sides of the expectation game. Four years ago, he was ignored by almost everyone. Two weeks ago, he was courted by almost everyone. Whatever happens from here, he thinks he’s ready for his close-up. “It’s the kind of situation I’ve always dreamed of,” Scheierman said. “At the end of the day, the goal for me is the NBA. If that doesn’t happen this year, then I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to return home and ultimately compete for a national title at Creighton: I wouldn’t have ended up here if I hadn’t thought we had a good chance of winning.

(Top photo: Gregory Fisher/USA Today)

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