Phew. Obviously, it has been a rough week to be affiliated with Creighton Basketball on any level, whether that is as a fan, alumnus, player, coach, etc. It has just been a sad week all around, I feel for all parties directly involved. Like everyone, I have my opinions on the matter, but that is not what I am going to be writing about. As the local and national media continue to push the Coach Mac story, I do not want this Senior Day to get lost in the shuffle. The seniors on this team, Mitch Ballock, Damien Jefferson, and Denzel Mahoney, deserve to be celebrated and honored for their careers and all they have done for Creighton Basketball. I want to make sure they get their shine because they have provided tons of great memories for us fans, and they have been great representatives of our favorite team and the city of Omaha. I want to highlight a few things about each player and some of my favorite memories from their time in Omaha.
I am going to start with Damien Jefferson, my personal favorite player of the last 2-3 years. The thing that stands out the most is his growth on all fronts from the time he arrived to now. He has gone from the “glue guy” to the undisputed star of this year’s team, in my opinion. Sure, Marcus gets the publicity and came into this year with all the hype, but Damien has been the best and most consistent player on this team from start to finish. He does it all - defends, rebounds, scores, and passes, and consistently does all the above game after game. He has taken over so many games this year, and does it in such a unique way. But my favorite part of his growth to this point is the change in his swagger, confidence and leadership. He plays with a different edge this year, and it ignites this team. As far as my favorite memory, it is difficult to beat the hustle play from last year’s Seton Hall game where he laid out for the ball and threw it to Marcus from his back for a layup, but I think Wednesday’s game against Villanova takes the cake for me. There was not one specific moment, but his fight and resiliency in that second half was so cool to watch. Amongst all the bullshit of the week, he battled like hell for his teammates and I think that says everything you need to know about DJ.
Next, Denzel Mahoney. He is the shortest tenured Senior out of the three, having only played two years at CU, but his impact has been immense. He changed the team last year with his impact off the bench and made Creighton basically unguardable with the “Death Lineup”. Man, I wish we could have seen that lineup again this year. He plays with a quiet and reserved demeanor, but his game certainly is not quiet. I love his aggressive mentality offensively. He reminds me a lot of Marcus Foster in that sense. He takes some shots that make you go “No, no, no… yes!” Occasionally, he will take a headscratcher that does not even come close to going in, but that’s part of his game. It comes from the confidence he has in himself that he is going to make the next one, regardless of whether there is a hand in his face or not. On the defensive side of the ball it has been so fun watching him embrace the role as the primary defender for the Jays. He has gotten better and better in that role as the year has progressed, and the last handful of games he has been locking dudes down. My favorite memory from Denzel over the last two years has to be the dagger 3 he hit on the road at Seton Hall last year. He stepped into that thing and cashed it without blinking. I think I have watched that clip about 100+ times.
Lastly, Mitch Ballock, an all-time Jays hooper. I wrote about it briefly earlier this year, but he represents everything that is great about Creighton Basketball. He works hard, is incredibly unselfish, and just wants to win at any cost. Oh, and he lets that thing fly like few who have worn the White and Blue. There really is not much else to say beyond that, his game and his attitude speak for itself. We are going to miss him so much. It is hard to say Kyle Korver is not the best shooter in Creighton history, but I truly think Mitch is a close second. Hot take inbound: I believe Mitch will be a 10+ year NBA player. Call me crazy. Okay that may be a bit ambitious but I’m standing tall on that take. I have a few favorite memories from watching Mitch over the years. The first that comes to mind is the game against DePaul where he made 11 of 12 from three. My Grandpa was at the game with me and I am not sure I have ever seen him that happy and have that much fun at a Creighton game, and we have been going to games together for 10-15+ years It was amazing to witness that performance and the joy it gave everyone who watched that game. The other is the logo 3-ball he made the day Kobe Bryant passed away. 8:24 left on the game clock, 8 seconds left on the shot clock, shot by the player wearing #24. I mean, come on, that was no accident. Chills.
It is unfortunate that then end of these guys’ careers are being overshadowed by the events of this week. They deserve a sendoff that is all about them. If you are going to the game today make sure to cheer extra loud for these guys and show your appreciation for their contributions to this program over the years, they deserve it. If not, show them some love on social media, they could use some appreciation on their timeline. All three of these guys have long professional careers ahead of them, and I cannot wait to watch them unfold. RDJ