Heading into last season many of the questions surrounding the Creighton basketball focused on Austin Chatman's ability to replace three-year starter Antoine Young, as the Bluejays prepare for this season, junior Will Artino finds himself answering similar questions.
Artino is the man expected to replace the Bluejays' starting center for the past two seasons, Gregory Echenique. Much like Antoine Young was the only starter from 2011-12 not to return for last season, Echenique is the only Bluejay starter from a year ago not returning for this season. Artino, however, isn't looking at replacing the former Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year as a responsibility that can be handled by one player.
"It's obviously a big task. Greg was the best center in the valley, one of the best defenders in the nation, probably," said Artino. "Defensive wise, I mean there's obviously a big difference in our games. I'm not the defensive player that he is, but I feel like out wide I can make up for it with quickness and getting the ball to the other bigs I'm playing with, kick outs stuff like that. I mean it's not just a one-man job to replace Greg. It's going to be all the centers, all the bigs."
Although Echenique isn't around to help the Bluejays transition into the Big East, he did a lot to prepare Artino and reserve center Geoff Groselle. Both Artino and Groselle spent the last couple seasons bumping and banging with Echenique throughout practices.
"I definitely think so," Artino answered when asked if he was better off after practicing against the 6-foot-9, 270-pound Echenique. "He was a Big East body. He came from the Big East, recruited Big East. It was three years of going against a Big East center before we actually – I mean I never knew we were going to be in it, so I think it definitely helps."
New Bluejay assistant coach, Patrick Sellers, knows what it takes to be successful in the Big East thanks to his time as an assistant at Connecticut. He too believes that the former backups will benefit from their time competing with the big-bodied Echenique.
"Greg was a big wall, man. He could move his feet. He can throw his chest in to you and keep you out of the box. That's where, again playing against him, a guy like that, he (Artino), is going to have to face up use quickness and agility and get past that guy more so than trying to use that body to go through him," said Sellers. "Playing with Greg really helped him. Now, for Will, practice is probably easier than it was last year because he had a big wall in front of him against him every day."
Having such a strong and physical defender opposite him in practice on a daily basis helped Artino refine some skills he will need against bigger defenders he can't back down. He's expanded on those moves with the help of coach Sellers this offseason.
"Coach Sellers, he's been working with me since he got here on a bunch of stuff. On sweep throughs and using my quickness against these bigger defends like he coached against forever when at UConn," said Artino. "He just talked to me about stepping out, spins, splits, stuff that the slower 6'9" 280 guys can't guard."
Defending guys like Marquette's Chris Otule, who is listed at 6-foot-11, 275 pounds, or Georgetown's 6-foot-10, 350-pound giant, Josh Smith will be a different challenge. Sellers noted positioning, avoiding foul trouble, and the ability to make two or three efforts plays simultaneously as things Artino and the other centers are going to need to do to be successful in the new league.
"This is a real physical league. When you don't have the girth, you're going to have to use your quick feet," said Sellers. "Will, the one thing with Will, he is very agile, so it's going to help him."
Artino's key for himself this year is consistently brining strong effort in both practice and games. It's something he discussed with Coach McDermott leading up to the season. Coach Sellers wants the fleet-footed big man to attack glass on a consistent basis as well.
"I honestly think coming into the league this year just because the high IQ, the way we shoot the basketball and spacing the floor, I think we're going to score. I think we're going to have a chance to score and I think we will make teams miss, but we will really have to rebound the basketball because when they miss, they are going to be crashing at the glass really hard. We are going to have to put a body on guys and put two hands on the ball to rebound," said Sellers.
There's little secret the play of Artino will impact the season ahead. While, he may not have been blessed with the build of Echenique, he does have tools to have a positive impact on the team. Bluejay supporters certainly hope Artino transitions into the frontline as smoothly as Chatman did in the backcourt.
Consistency Key for Artino in New Role
Bluejay Report Top Stories
Answering Your MSU basketball QuestionsWe answered your Michigan State basketball questions and emails from on the court, off the court and recruiting!
Spartan NationThursday at 2:02 PM
Q&A with four-star center Jacob EppersonSPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Jacob Epperson, Scout's No. 57 overall recruit, met with the media at the Hoophall Classic to discuss the latest in his recruitment.
Scout HoopsWednesday at 10:40 AM
XU falters in the clutch vs CreightonXavier's perplexing offensive issues followed the Musketeers inside the Cintas Center Monday afternoon as they dropped their third straight game.
Musketeer ReportTuesday at 7:37 AM
Top 100 Stadium Experiences of 2016In 2016, the writers at Stadium Journey reviewed 761 different stadium experiences. We renewed our love for many of the venues that have consistently been on our best stadiums list…
The Matchups: Xavier vs CreightonBefore every game, Rick takes a position-by-position look at what to expect. This edition focuses on Monday afternoon's game at home against #8 Creighton.