By
 In Simley
Pictured in the Bluejays' 80-77 win over Draka on Nov. 17, 2016 in Omaha, Neb., Creighton junior guard Sydney Lamberty, a Park grad, is one of six Minnesota natives on Creighton's roster. Photo courtesy of Creighton University: Steven Branscombe.
Pictured in the Bluejays’ 80-77 win over Draka on Nov. 17, 2016 in Omaha, Neb., Creighton junior guard Sydney Lamberty, a Park grad, is one of six Minnesota natives on Creighton’s roster. Photo courtesy of Creighton University: Steven Branscombe.

The running joke was created many years ago.

Maybe Steve Huber should get an apartment in the Twin Cities.

The former Creighton women’s basketball assistant coach was in town nearly enough to justify it.

It was Huber who convinced Creighton head coach Jim Flanery that the Bluejays needed to push more recruiting resources into Minnesota. With talent in the tundra and only one Division I university in the state, Minnesota was an area worthy of the staff’s time and effort.

Pictured on Aug. 30, 2016 are all six Minnesota natives currently on Creighton's women's basketball roster. Bottom: Kylie Brown (from left), Bailey Norby and Ali Greene. Middle: Sydney Lamberty and MC McGrory. Top: Marissa Janning. Photo courtesy of Creighton University: Dave Weaver.

Pictured on Aug. 30, 2016 are all six Minnesota natives currently on Creighton’s women’s basketball roster. Bottom: Kylie Brown (from left), Bailey Norby and Ali Greene. Middle: Sydney Lamberty and MC McGrory. Top: Marissa Janning. Photo courtesy of Creighton University: Dave Weaver.

After all, Nebraska has plenty of talented athletes, but it’s a volleyball state first and foremost.

“A lot of people figured out that (Minnesota) was a pretty good area to recruit,” Flanagan said.

And while Huber is no longer at Creighton, the Bluejays staff continues to make regular trips to Minnesota. Flanery said assistants will make three-day trips up to the Twin Cities during the season to watch a couple practices and a game before returning to Omaha, Neb.

“I definitely had (Creighton coaches) at my games a few times and a couple practices, but also had an assistant coach come to one of my tennis matches,” said junior forward Bailey Norby, a Forest Lake grad. “So it showed that they had outside interest … in me as a person and what I do outside of basketball.”

To judge the effectiveness of the migration of Creighton’s recruiting efforts, take a quick peek at the roster featuring six Minnesotans: Norby, senior guard MC McGrory (Edina), senior guard Marissa Janning (Watertown-Mayer), junior forward Kylie Brown (Simley), junior guard Sydney Lamberty (Park) and sophomore forward Ali Greene (Mahtomedi).

Creighton has the same number of Minnesotans on its roster as the Gophers. The majority of the Minnesotans on Creighton’s roster say they had limited contact with the Gophers during their recruitment process.

And while Creighton, a member of the Big East Conference, didn’t have a Minnesotan in its Class of 2016 recruiting class, there is another one on the way. Lakeville North senior Temi Carda signed her National Letter of Intent in November to join the Bluejays next fall.

“Once you get one or two, I think it’s easier to get a third and a fourth,” Flanery said, “because hopefully you treat the kids you have the right way, and word of mouth, and now everybody knows everybody through club programs, I think that helps, too.”

And it really helps when the first swing is a home run.

That was Janning, the 2012 Minnesota Miss Basketball from Watertown-Mayer. She chose Creighton in a move that started this Minnesota avalanche. Flanery said netting a fish that big might have helped raise Creighton’s stock in Minnesota, particularly among AAU coaches.

Janning already has earned first-team All-Big East honors twice, and she currently is fourth on Creighton’s all-time scoring list.

“She’s had a good experience and she’s been a really good player,” Flanery said. “I think it helped that she was the first of this Minnesota wave of kids.”

Still, Lamberty said she, like many of her current teammates, wasn’t aware of Creighton’s program at the start of her high school career, though that changed quickly.

“I feel like you learn from previous players,” Norby said. “Once you hear that Marissa and MC have committed there, then it makes us interested and engaged to learn more about it, so we look into it a lot more and then try to get on their radar.”

The result is this massive Minnesota presence on the roster. That’s created a tighter-knit team. The Minnesota players — once rivals in high school — will carpool back to their home state when they get a brief break and even hang out together when back in Minnesota.

“It’s just nice to get to know them as people,” Brown said, “because it’s not the same as playing someone on the court, obviously.”

Flanery said those developed relationships help make each player’s experience a positive one, regardless of on-court results or playing time.

But the wins and losses haven’t been bad, either. There was a time last year in which four of the five starters were Minnesotans. At which point Norby said people joked about something special being in the water in Minnesota.

And while that team didn’t have the regular season it wanted, Creighton still advanced to the Big East Tournament title game before falling to St. John’s.

This season, Creighton was picked in the preseason to win the Big East. And after a challenging nonconference start, the Bluejays are 5-1 in conference play and 11-5 overall.

“There’s always that goal of wanting to make it to the NCAA tournament,” Lamberty said. “Especially us juniors, we still haven’t made it, so that’s definitely one of our goals, and winning the conference. Honestly, having a good season overall is one of our goals right now.”

Creighton is demonstrating how Minnesota players can successfully impact a collegiate roster. Why is it the Bluejays staff keeps going back to the land with the lakes to fill out its roster?

Flanery said Minnesota coaches, AAU and high school, know how to teach and coach.

“You’re going to enjoy watching them play,” he said, “because they’re going to play hard, they’re going to be a fairly low-mistake team, they’re going to be skilled, and the collection of the parts is going to be greater than some of the parts.”

“I would say that there are a lot of talented girls that do come from Minnesota,” Greene said. “I would say a part of it is we’re all hard workers and we all are passionate about basketball. I think those are the types of girls that Creighton recruits.”

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