Creighton basketball practices have been a lot quieter for Avery Dingman.
Unlike the past two seasons, when he often found himself singled out for one transgression or another, Dingman's name has been scarcely heard whenever the coaches have halted drills to point out mistakes.
“I feel like most of the things we're covering are more instinctive,” he said. “The coaches will say something to me occasionally, but I feel I have a lot better grasp than I had the past two years.”
Creighton coach Greg McDermott chuckled when it was suggested that he's doing a lot less yelling at Dingman these days.
“Maybe it's kind of a rite of passage with becoming an upperclassman,” McDermott said.
Asked what he's liked from Dingman this fall, McDermott said the 6-foot-6 junior from Branson, Mo., is doing a better job of fighting through fatigue. His leadership has improved. And he's broadened his offensive game, becoming more adept at driving the ball to the basket.
“The only thing he hasn't done is shoot the ball the way he's capable,” McDermott said. “That's what we have to iron out over the next couple of weeks. But he's a much improved basketball player.”
Dingman has made his mark his first two seasons in the program as a shooter — 59 of his 77 baskets have come from behind the arc. He shot 41.9 percent from 3-point range as a freshman, averaging 2.9 points and 7.2 minutes.
His playing time increased to 13.8 minutes per game last season, when he shot 39.8 percent from beyond the arc and averaged 3.7 points. He also improved his rebounding average from 0.7 per game as a freshman to 2.3.
The one thing that didn't increase significantly was Dingman's consistency.
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“Last year I started off really well defensively, and then for whatever reason, I kind of slowed down as the year went on,” he said. “Offensively, too. My percentage wasn't as good at the end of the year as it was at the start.”
McDermott admits there were times last season when he didn't know which Avery Dingman he'd get from game to game.
“So far through 12 practices,” the coach said, “I've seen the same guy each practice.”
Dingman has had the misfortune of playing the same position as Grant Gibbs, who led the team in assists each of the past two seasons.
In addition to Gibbs, who was granted a sixth season of eligibility in the offseason, Dingman knew that the staff had brought in three scholarship wing players in junior college transfers Devin Brooks and James Milliken and freshman Darian Harris.
Dingman knew there would be added competition for playing time, but that's nothing new.
“I faced the same thing the last two years as well,” he said. “It's good to have competition. If you don't have competition, guys start feeling comfortable with their spot and maybe they don't work as hard.”
During the offseason, Dingman worked on adapting his game to better fit Creighton's system, which relies heavily on ball screens on the perimeter. He wasn't adept at using those screens to his advantage in his first two seasons.
“I didn't come off many ball screens last year,” he said, “and I like doing that and making a decision to make a play for myself or for somebody else.”
Dingman admits there were times late last season when his frustration level crept into the high range. After a stretch when he was averaging almost 20 minutes per game after the Bluejays lost senior guard Josh Jones to a heart ailment, Dingman closed the season by playing nine minutes or fewer in five of Creighton's final 12 games.
“A lot of that was on me,” Dingman said. “I wasn't playing as well as I was at the beginning of the year. I can't blame Coach. He might have questioned if I was ready to go, if I was going to be locked in defensively.”
From what he's seen so far, McDermott said, Dingman is “close” to taking his game to another level this season.
“He's improved as a ball-handler. He's improved as a passer. His progress has been great, and he'll play an important role on our team this year,” the coach said. “There's no question in my mind about that.”