No one appreciated good point guard play more than the late John Wooden.
Long before he was “the Wizard of Westwood” as a coach at UCLA, Wooden was one of the best guards ever to play Indiana High School basketball and was a three-time All-American at Purdue.
Wooden would appreciate the play of Creighton point guard Austin Chatman, who leads No. 20 Creighton into this weekend’s tournament that bears the legendary coach's name, the Wooden Legacy, and especially love the Bluejays’ opening-round matchup with Arizona State when Chatman goes up against ASU sophomore point sensation Jahii Carson.
Chatman is shooting over 55 percent, over 58 percent from three and just north of 71 percent from the foul line. He entered Monday averaging 11.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.2 assists, one of six players in the nation to make that claim. While Chatman sounds like option No. 1 material in most offenses he’s only good enough for options No. 3 and 4 on a Creighton team that leads the Big East in scoring (92.0, almost 13 points higher than the nearest team), field goal percentage (.535), three-point field goals made (11.5 per game, four more than the next team) and field goal percentage (.460, more than 60 points higher than the next team).
Within the framework of the Bluejays’ offense, Chatman ranks third in scoring (11.0 ppg) and field goal percentage (.552, .583 from three) after scoring a career-best 19 in Saturday’s 82-72 win over Tulsa. He took the lead in three-point shooting following a career-best 4-for-5 day from behind the arc against the Golden Hurricane.
But sharing the court with the likes of forward Doug McDermott, a two-time Consensus First-Team All-American and preseason choice to make it three straight, and three-point marksman Ethan Wragge, as well as co-point Grant Gibbs, Chatman has found that being option No. 3 or even 4 for coach Greg McDermott (Doug’s dad) isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s something to celebrate.
“That just shows you what great shooters we have on the team,” Chatman said.
In only his second year starting, the junior from The Colony, Texas, who was named Missouri Valley Conference Most Improved Player last year, is a point guard in the truest sense. Like all true points, he relishes the idea of having plenty of options. While the ball most frequently winds up in McDermott’s more-than-capable hands, Chatman feels confident throwing to any of the other three players on the court at any time.
“It makes it easy,” he said. “I really don’t have too many turnovers because if you get into the lane somebody has to help and we have so many threats on the court that you really can’t go wrong no matter who you throw it to on our team. We have a lot of shooters and weapons on the court.”
Heading into the Wooden Legacy, Chatman only has four turnovers through four games vs. 25 assists, a 6.25:1 assists-to-turnover ratio. He almost forgot what a turnover was, as he didn’t commit his first until late in the first half of Creighton’s fourth game on Saturday against Tulsa. Taking care of the ball is contagious at Creighton, as the point guard trio of Chatman (25/4), Gibbs (23/5) and Devin Brooks (14/8) combine for a 62 assists vs. 17 turnovers.
“Really that’s what it came down to. Just making smarter plays and making the right reads,” he said. “I’ve been watching a lot of film the past year or so, trying to make the right reads in certain situations. It’s something that I was focusing on since last year ended, getting into the lane and making plays in the lane, finishing around the rim, things like that.”
Chatman is looking forward to showing people how that work has paid off and what Creighton, the newest member of the Big East, is all about, on Thursday and Friday at Titan Gym in Fullerton, Calif., and then Sunday at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
“It will be real nice,” he said. “Just getting different scenery, we’re looking forward to enjoying that for a little while, playing teams that we really haven’t played, different competition. That will be real fun.”
The fun — see the challenge — begins right away for Chatman, who will be matched up with Carson, the Sun Devils leading scorer (23.0) and assistman (5.4 apg). Carson is rolling, having dropped a career-high 40 on UNLV on Nov. 19 on 16-for-25 shooting, 2-for-3 from 3, 6-for-9 from the line, with seven assists, then followed that on Monday with a 25-point effort in a 78-77 home victory over No. 25 Marquette.
Carson and Chatman aren’t exactly strangers, as they met last year in the finals of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational. Carson won the duel (30 points, on 9-for-17 shooting, 7 assists vs. 5 turnovers and 4 steals) against Chatman (7 points on 3-for-7 shooting, 1 assist vs. 6 turnovers and 1 steal) but No. 14 Creighton prevailed, 87-73.
Chatman is better prepared for the likes of Carson this time around. He’s a year more familiar with Creighton’s offense. He also sharpened his skills during the off-season, working out with Brooklyn Nets point guard and three-time All-Star Deron Williams — both of whom attended The Colony High School.
He expects a challenge every night with every team coming after the Bluejays, who were picked to finish third in their inaugural season in the Big East.
“Every game we go into we’re going go get everybody’s best shot because that’s all they hear about is ‘Creighton this,’ ‘Creighton that.’ We’ve got Doug and things like that,” said Chatman. “So it’s on us to come to every game and give our best effort and leave it all on the court.”