Feb. 2, 2014
By Sean Brennan
Special to BIGEAST.com
Unless you're one of the fine denizens of Omaha, Nebraska who has Creighton blue flowing through their veins or simply a college basketball connoisseur who lives and breathes the game, chances are you struggle mightily to name anyone on Creighton's roster outside of All-American Doug McDermott.
Admit it. You can rattle off the names of Sheldon Cooper's nerdy buddies on the "Big Bang Theory" with far greater ease than naming the Creighton starting five. It's okay, you're not alone.
But suffice it to say Creighton, for all of McDermott's greatness, would not be in the national conversation and ranked in the Top 25 if it were not for the rest of the seasoned Bluejays who serve as McDermott's wingmen.
Hey, Sinatra had his Rat Pack. Springsteen? He has his E Street Band. McDermott? Well, his sidekicks don't have a catchy nickname, and while they may not be household names outside of Omaha, Ethan Wragge, Jahenns Manigat, Austin Chatman, Will Artino, Avery Dingman, Grant Gibbs, Devin Brooks and the rest of the Bluejays are most certainly birds of a feather.
"They're an incredible group," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "They've been a pleasure to coach. It's been fun to be at practice every day and it's fun to see this group have success because they've earned it."
Creighton's success so far this season is reflected in the gaudy numbers attached to the program. An 18-3 overall record with a BIG EAST-best 8-1 mark has the Bluejays nesting in the conference penthouse. Add in a flawless 12-0 home record and a tidy 7-1 mark so far in 2014 and you start to understand that to post for those contributions must be coming from up and down the roster. And they are.
There's Wragge, the senior three-point specialist who Greg McDermott, the coach and father of Doug, said is "arguably the best shooter I've ever coached and that's saying a lot with Doug standing next to him on the floor."
Wragge, who has made 78 three-balls already this season and shoots a scorching 50% from behind the arc, is a man who never met a three-point shot he didn't want to take.
"Yes, that would be accurate," McDermott said.
There's Manigat, the senior guard who "is our emotional leader who brings enthusiasm to practice every day," McDermott said. "He's also having his best year as a senior. He's shooting 46 percent from the three-point line and his assist-to-turnover numbers (69-19) are off the charts."
McDermott also speaks glowingly of his point guard, junior Austin Chatman.
"I've always said you look at your point guard by whether his team wins or loses and obviously Austin has won a bunch of games for us as our starting point guard and he's a perfect fit for this team," McDermott said. "He's shooting 45 percent from the three-point line this year and 75 percent from the foul line and he's got better than a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Those are the things you want from your point guard."
McDermott has similar rave reviews for Dingman, Artino, Gibbs, Brooks and others. But you get the picture. Even Doug McDermott's huge shadow can't cloak his wingmen's contributions.
"I certainly don't feel we play in Doug's shadow because this is a team sport," said Manigat, who is averaging 8.4 points and 3.3 assists a game. "Doug is a great player and there is no reason why he shouldn't get as much love and attention as he does. But we also know there are going to be tough games where we're going to have to step up and deliver on nights when Doug is struggling and I think we've done that a few times this year when he's not had a Doug-like game. We all have a role to play and the reason we are so good is because we all understand our roles."
"Doug commands a lot of attention on and off the court and he gets it but our team is not jealous or envious," said Wragge, who averages 12 points a game, second on the team. "He's an easy guy to be around because he's very humble. He's not out there bragging. That's just not him."
Greg McDermott said the bond among the team is a strong one, almost brother-like. "They're also each other's biggest fans which makes them very easy to coach," McDermott said.
But like any band of brothers there are jokes, pranks and the occasional public embarrassment. It is no different with these Bluejays.
"They pick on Doug a lot," Greg McDermott said with a laugh. "We might be in a restaurant and one of them will yell, `Oh waitress, Doug would like to order The All-American burger,' just to make light at some of the success that Doug has had. It makes it a little easier for him to deal with all the attention he gets on a daily basis. But they are all great friends and they have each other's back and it's made this work."
Manigat, though, said Doug McDermott knows exactly what to say to bring the ribbing to an abrupt end.
"Every time we do that he immediately brings up the fact that he can beat anybody one-on-one and well, that keeps us kind of humble," a laughing Manigat said. "But every once in a while we still have to go at him."
"There are times when we're all taking shots at him but Doug's a good sport," Wragge added. "He gives it right back. It's just fun, like brothers getting after it a little bit."
But despite playing together for so long, both Manigat and Wragge say there are still times during games where they find themselves transformed from player to fan while Doug McDermott goes about conducting his basketball business.
"I've kind of found myself being a spectator sometimes," Manigat said. "My sophomore year when he had 44 points against Bradley I was like, `Wow.' Every time he shot the ball it went in. He's amazed me so many times but I've seen it so often I've become kind of numb to it. Now when he has a game like he did vs. St. John's when he scored 39 points, I kind of expect it. But it's nice to be a part of it."
For Wragge watching Doug McDermott light up another opponent has become almost commonplace.
"I've been playing with Doug for four years now so it's not like everything he does I think is spectacular," Wragge said. "You're just like, `That's Doug.' But then you take a step back and you're like, `Wow.' You want to relish every moment playing with a guy that makes it all look so easy. There are times during the game even now where you find yourself standing around looking and not doing much because you're watching Doug. It's impressive but at the same time we're kind of used to it. You're like, `Well, there he goes again.'"
So far this season Wragge, Manigat and, oh yeah, Doug McDermott and the rest of the Bluejays, have made the jump from the Missouri Valley Conference to the BIG EAST seem almost flawless for Creighton.
"We all knew it was going to be a transition for us as far as physical stuff and different teams coming in and out of our arena but because we've been together for so long we knew what we needed to do to be successful," Manigat said. "Obviously we've done well in BIG EAST play with just the one loss and we're just trying to keep it going now."
But with just nine games remaining in the regular season, and with just four left at home, the one thing Manigat, Wragge and the rest of the Creighton seniors are finding hard to face is that it will all be coming to an end at some point in the next six to eight weeks or so - the laughs, the ribbing, the camaraderie and, of course, the winning. It will also be the last days to play alongside McDermott and any more chances to look around and say, `Wow.'"
"Every year I've been here there are certainly moments that I remember and I cherish," Manigat said. "I'm sure at the end of the season when I have time to reflect on the year that was I'm pretty sure I'm going to have a smile on my face. But first we want to see how far we can take this thing."
"We're all such good friends on and off the court so I don't want it to end but I think about it a lot," Wragge said. "This is our last go-around and we really want to make it count. I just try to take it all in and not take any day for granted."
But when it is all over, and McDermott is cashing his NBA paychecks next year, Manigat said he already has a plan.
"I've already told Doug that, because I'm Canadian, and the NBA All Star Game is going to be in Toronto (next year) and he's going to be in that rookie game, there's no way I'm going to miss that," Manigat said. "I'm sure you'll see me in Doug's posse every once in a while. That's my man. I got to stay close to him."
Actually, the NBA All Star Game isn't headed to Toronto until 2016. So Manigat's plan may be on hold for a while.