Jammin' Justin: 7-footer a game-changer for No. 10 Creighton
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) Justin Patton loves to dunk. He's done it 24 times in Creighton's first 10 games and wishes it could have been more, and not just because all those throw-downs propped up his field-goal shooting to 80 percent, second in the nation.
It's because Patton aims to please his teammates and fans of the 10th-ranked Bluejays .
''Getting everybody else hyped, seeing everyone's energy once you do it,'' Patton said, explaining his motivation. ''It's demoralizing to the defense when they defend 25 seconds and then at the end I send a hammer and the crowd goes wild. It's fun to see the hurt on the defense and the excitement on our end.''
The homegrown 7-footer, the Big East freshman of the week the last two weeks, has brought plenty of buzz to what already was one of the top offensive teams in college hoops. It's not just the dunks. He possesses a variety of post moves and can shoot the mid-range jumper and occasional 3-pointer. He rebounds, blocks shots, changes shots and makes steals. There might not be a man his size who runs the floor better.
And to think, Patton drew no recruiting notice until the summer before his senior year in high school. Now NBA teams are calling Creighton's basketball office about him.
''I had said at one time, I don't think he's going to be here four years, and I think that's more clear than ever,'' coach Greg McDermott said. ''But we're going to enjoy him while we have him.''
Patton said he's flattered McDermott expects him to turn pro sooner than later, but he's in no hurry.
''I know the only way I can be successful is to value my time here and maximize all my potential here at the college level,'' Patton said, pausing as his ever-present smile grew bigger. ''If that means getting the Wooden Award my senior year, that's what I'll do.''
In Patton, Creighton saw potential where others apparently didn't. Patton's high school numbers his junior season wowed no one, and he didn't appear on any list of top recruits.
''Crickets,'' said Bob Franzese, Patton's Amateur Athletic Union coach.
Creighton had kept tabs on Patton since early in his high school career and saw a player with a high ceiling, assistant coach Darian DeVries said. Patton was just 6-2 when he enrolled at Omaha North High. His growth spurt hit between his freshman and junior years, and he had difficulty playing long stretches while adjusting to his rapidly changing body.
By April of his junior year, he usually was the best big man on the floor during his AAU games. He'd draw a ''wow'' from DeVries a couple times a game, and the coach knew ''if he starts to put that together, he has a chance to be something really special just with his size and ability to run.''
The Bluejays were the only school to offer Patton a scholarship. He accepted on the spot. Shortly after he announced his pledge, Franzese was inundated with calls from recruiters wanting to know if Patton was a soft or solid commit. It was a silly question.
''Creighton was my dream school,'' said Patton, whose family lives 10 minutes from campus.
Patton grew up attending Bluejays games, slapping hands with players as they ran onto the court from the locker room and then watching from the cheap seats in the upper balcony.
''Now I'm here,'' he said, ''one of the players I used to look at.''
Patton weighed just 204 pounds when he arrived. He was 227 at the start of this week and would like to top out at 245. He's on a 6,000-calorie-a-day diet, not counting the 1,300-calorie protein shake he drinks on days he lifts weights.
Patton also made big gains on the basketball court during his redshirt year. DeVries said Patton was tireless at practice, but Patton said it was hard not to play in games. He said he would go to the campus recreation center after practice and play pickup games with regular students until midnight.
McDermott, if he knew, surely wouldn't have approved of Patton's extra basketball activity, especially if he had gotten hurt.
''Good thing I didn't,'' he said.
Point guard Maurice Watson expects Patton's game to flow seamlessly into Big East play .
''He's ready, mentally strong,'' Watson said. ''He's getting stronger every day physically, and he's getting smarter about how to use the strength he has. That's the best thing, his IQ.''
But it's the simplest thing - the dunk - that drives Patton. He knows no Creighton player has had more than 36 dunks in a season since the school began tracking them seven years ago. And he knows Doug McDermott, the national player of the year as a senior for the Bluejays in 2014, had 19 in his entire career.
''I'm going to double that this year,'' he said. ''Probably even triple it.''
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