They came together from as close as Iowa and as far away as Ontario. They've gone face to face with Blue Devils and Blue Demons, and even battled Pirates. They've bonded on the beaches of the Bahamas and San Diego, and were sideswiped by a snowstorm in Peoria. They've won championships and set new records. They've played Madison Square Garden, and they even met Bono.
"It's been incredible. I don't think a lot of other teams have something that's this close as far as having a group that's been together for so long," said senior guard Jahenns Manigat. "We rarely dispute over things. We've just really been a tight-knit group from the start, and our personalities really match well together. It's been an awesome four years with them."
Bluejay fans will flock to the CenturyLink Center again this Saturday in what promises to be an emotionally charged scene as Creighton's four seniors take on Providence in the final home game of their careers. Adding to the drama is the implications the game has on the league race, with Creighton and Villanova vying for the Big East lead coming down to the wire.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet that we only have one more here (CenturyLink)", said senior forward Doug McDermott. "We have a tough Providence team coming in for our senior night, so it's going to be a lot of emotion out there and we're going to leave it all out there on the floor."
Creighton's seniors have put their focus on winning a conference championship rather than taking time to reminisce too long over making their final home appearance.
"I haven't really given it much thought right now. Obviously we are trying to still fulfill our goals of winning the Big East. But for the short time that I have had to think about it, it's hard to believe it's almost over," said Manigat. "I really consider these guys brothers as well as teammates. I feel like these guys have become best friends that even after basketball when all that is said and done we'll be able to still communicate, still talk to each other, and still be as close as we are now. It's pretty awesome that I've made a couple of good friends that are going to stay with me for the rest of my life."
It's the most successful group in the history of Creighton basketball over the past four seasons, notching 104 wins and counting during that span. The previous best four year stretch came from 1999-2003 when Kyle Korver was torching the nets back at the Civic. Their current record stands at 23-5 and 13-3 in conference after a tough loss at Xavier last weekend.
They captured the regular season Missouri Valley Conference title last season before going on to win the Valley tournament for the 2nd straight year, vanquishing rival Wichita State along the way and earning a 2nd straight invitation to the Big Dance. Their #9 ranking, league standing, and overall strong record virtually assures the Jays another invite this year regardless of how they finish.
But it's what they haven't done yet that continues to motivate them...making some March Madness history with a deep run into the NCAA Tournament.
"We've been dissapointed the past two years. We're all competitors," said Manigat. "Sophomore year when we lost to North Carolina, in our hearts we feel like we should have won that game. Last year against Duke, in our hearts we feel like we should have won that game, so this year we want to push it as far as it can go. I think that's the thing I love the most about this group is that we've never really settled, we've just kept pushing ourselves to get better. Sometimes the bounce didn't go our way, but we've come back each and every year wanting to improve. Since this is our last shot, we're just going to give it all we've got."
Together they have 19 years of college experience under their belt.
Manigat is the only Canadian to ever play for the Jays. He wasn't heavily recruited out of Ottawa, but former Creighton head coach Dana Altman saw something special in Manigat. Shortly after luring the athletic guard to the program, Altman left for Oregon. Manigat weighed his options and decided to stick with the Jays, despite not being familiar with the new coaching staff.
He and the new coach's son, some kid named Doug, soon became friends and roommates. He made an early strong impression with his energy and all-out effort every day in practice. Half way through his freshman season, Manigat joined Doug in the starting lineup, and the pair have started every game since.
Knicknamed the "Canadian Red Bull", Manigat has made his mark on the team by spearheading the defense and providing an emotional spark, often tasked with slowing down the opposition's main offensive weapons. He also knows how to pass the rock as well as take care of it, currently leading the Big East and 6th nationally in assist/turnover ratio.
Ethan Wragge, alternately know as the "Bearded Bomber" or the "Lumberjack", has been with the program even longer. Wragge played for Altman's last Creighton squad in 2009-2010, setting a freshman record for three pointers in a season with 68. Injuries, mainly a bout with plantar fasciitis, sidlined Wragge the next season.
Playing the same position as that kid named Doug limited Wragge's time on the court over the next 2 seasons, but he became instant offense off the bench with his deep shooting prowess. Eight games into this season, coach McDermott shuffled his starting lineup and elected to start Wragge in the post and bring junior center Will Artino off the bench, a move credited with helping jump start the Jays' season after losing a pair of games at the Wooden Legacy tournament in California.
The unconventional lineup has proven a nightmare for opposing defenses, often faced with having plodding big men attempting to cover the sharp-shooting Wragge 25 feet from the basket. His 318 career three-pointers (and counting) rank third in school history behind Kyle Korver's 371.
The 5th year senior from Eden Prairie, Minnesota was still mostly an unknown commodity until he and the Jays lit up then #4 Villanova 96-68 in Philadelphia on Jan. 20. Wragge shot 7-7 from three-point range in the game's first seven minutes on his way to a school record nine trifectas and a career-high 27 points. Suddenly he was trending nationally on Twitter. He was the toast of the college basketball world and being toasted at local watering holes, where "WraggeBombs" took on a whole new meaning.
After starring in high school in Marion, Iowa, Grant Gibbs' began his college career at Gonzaga way back in 2008. Surgery to repair a torn ACL sidelined Gibbs for a season in Spokane before he elected to switch to Creighton when Greg McDermott took over the helm. Transfer rules kept him on the sidelines that season, but when he finally got on the court he made an immediate impact on the Jays.
Often referred to as the "glue guy", Gibbs' leadership was evident from day one, having been voted a team captain before ever playing a game for Creighton. His cerebral approach, deft passing ability, and overall toughness and tenacity set a tone for the team that will continue to resonate with the underclassmen for years to come.
He's even been through this whole senior day thing before after seemingly using up his eligibility last year. However, because of the time missed with injury at Gonzaga, Creighton petitioned and was granted a rare 6th season of eligibility for Gibbs by the NCAA back in July.
Before suffering a dislocated knee cap (ouch!) against DePaul on Jan. 7, Gibbs was closing in on Creighton's career assist record. His totals were limited by missing six games while recovering, but with over 500 career assists so far, Gibbs will likely finish third on the school's all-time list. He returned to the starting lineup in early February, but is just now getting back to 100%...if such a number ever really applies to the "old man's" battle-scarred body.
Then there's that kid they call "Dougie McBuckets", the coach's son from Ames, Iowa, and everybody's all-American. Doug McDermott has earned so many awards and accolades that The Reader would need to print a special edition just to list them all, but here are a few of the highlights...Doug
...was named 1st team all-American after both his sophomore and junior seasons by the Associated Press, Basketball Times, ESPN.com and a slew of other organizations, a feat he will undeniably replicate when honors are handed out following the season. The last players to achieve A.P. 1st team all-American status three consecutive seasons were legends Patrick Ewing and the late Wayman Tisdale nearly 30 years ago.
...is the leading scorer in Creighton history and currently 9th on the all-time NCAA charts with 2,944 points...on pace to become just the 8th player in NCAA history to score more than 3,000 points.
...is a two time Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year and a shoo-in for Big East Player of the Year after being named conference Player of the Week a record seven times so far this season.
...currently leads the nation in scoring at 26 points per game despite preseason detractors predicting that his production would fall off once he faced Big East competition. He is the only player in Creighton history to lead the team in both scoring and rebounding in four straight seasons.
...is a finalist for and has practically already engraved his name on all of the national player of the year trophies and plaques available including the Wooden and Naismith Awards. In fact, he's been so good it wouldn't be a surprise if some organization named a NEW player of the year award after HIM.
After the Jays pounded his team for the second time this season, Villanova head coach Jay Wright added his two cents worth...
"I think he's as complete a player, and I do not use that term loosely, with size, as I've ever seen. At 6-8, 6-9, there's nothing he can't do. He can take you off the dribble. He guards, he's tough as hell guarding. He defends. He rebounds. He moves without the ball. He seals. He's the best post player that we've played against , and he's the best perimeter player, and maybe one of the best passers...I think he's as good a basketball player as I've seen."
All this from a kid who didn't even make the starting lineup on his high school team until his senior year, and wasn't even recruited by his own father.
What's even more amazing is that Creighton initially lost the recruiting battle for his services after a strong senior season at Ames. His godfather, Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobsen, signed Doug and he was all set to become a Panther. But when Altman bolted for the west coast and Creighton Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen convinced Greg McDermott to leave Iowa State for the greener grass of Omaha, Doug elected to join his dad, Jacobsen graciously let him go...and the rest is history.
Awards and stats only tell part of the story, however, when it comes to Doug McDermott. He is the ultimate role model on the court and off. Despite his myriad of accomplishments and rock star status around town, he has never let it go to his head. He may be the most genuine, humble hero you will ever meet.
"I am obviously proud of what he has accomplished on the court, but I am even prouder of the man that he has become," said the elder McDermott. "He's never let the attention go to his head or allowed his ego to get in the way of the team. He's never let himself get satisfied with where he's at and has always worked at getting better. When your best player is also your hardest working player that sets the tone for the rest of the team."
It's a legacy that's sure to resonate long after this group of seniors is gone. Creighton fans have had a lot to cheer for with all the wins, but they can be even prouder with how these guys have gotten it done. If ever there was a picture of how to win with teamwork and class, it would be a framed photo of Gibbs, Manigat, McDermott, and Wragge.
The matchup with the Providence Friars is scheduled for Saturday, March 8 at the CenturyLink Center. CBS Sports Network will televise the game nationally starting at 7:00 p.m.