An incident at last season's Missouri Valley tournament reinforced to Creighton coach Greg McDermott just how much of a team player he had in Ethan Wragge.
McDermott wanted to substitute Wragge into the game. Wragge talked him out of it, saying how the coach shouldn't break up the roll that teammates Doug McDermott and Gregory Echenique were on at the time.
“How many guys will do that?'' Greg McDermott asked. “That's a guy that truly cares about what the scoreboard says at the end of the game. He's as good of an example of that as anyone I've ever coached.''
There comes a time, though, when even a team-first guy such as Wragge finds the spotlight on him for his individual accomplishments. It could come Tuesday night, when the No. 20 Bluejays face Butler in an 8:07 p.m. game at the CenturyLink Center.
Wragge enters the game needing 14 points to become the 38th player in program history to score 1,000 points in his career. The 6-foot-7 sharpshooter is averaging 12.3 points this season and has scored 15 points or more in seven of Creighton's 16 games.
Wragge's journey to 1,000 points is quite different than any of the other 37 Creighton players who have achieved the feat. No other Bluejay in the 1,000-point club started fewer than 59 games. Wragge has played a backup role most of his career, and Tuesday's start against the Bulldogs will be just his 17th.
“I've kind of nickeled and dimed my way there,'' Wragge said with a laugh. “I've been here five years and I haven't been a double-digit scorer until this year. It's been a slow process of just doing my job and playing my role, and it would be something I would be very proud of.''
His coach, too, will be beaming when Wragge buries the shot that gets him to 1,000. Greg McDermott calls Wragge the perfect teammate and a coach's dream.
“He's played the same position as the coach's son for three years and never once questioned any decision that I've made,'' McDermott said. “He's always been willing to play whatever role the team needed him to play.
“Sometimes that's changed from game to game over the last few years depending on who we were playing and the matchups. He just wants to help us win, and whatever it takes to do that, he was more than willing to sacrifice in any way that he can to help the team.''
Wragge's team-first approach might be a part of his basketball DNA but it became defined in the first season he played for the Bluejays. He joined the program in 2009 and was a member of Dana Altman's final team.
The Bluejays finished 18-16 that season, the only time since the 1997-98 campaign that they failed to win at least 20 games. Their postseason destination wound up being something called the CollegeInsiders.com Tournament.
Those two developments fueled Wragge's desire to do whatever he could to get things headed in the right direction. So did the atmosphere in the locker room. The Bluejays that season were a splintered group, with the individual agendas of a few players creating a less-than-desirable environment for the team.
“We had a few guys that were selfish,'' said Wragge, declining to single out the individuals. “It wasn't much fun.''
Wragge said he decided then that things such as starting and scoring a lot of points were really unimportant. What was, he said, was winning.
“And once we really started winning,'' Wragge said, “that became the only thing that was important to me.''
A foot injury kept Wragge from playing in all but nine games in Greg McDermott's first season as coach and resulted in a medical redshirt. Doug McDermott established himself as Creighton's go-to player during the 2010-11 season, so when Wragge came back, he found himself playing behind the coach's son at the power forward spot or backing up Echenique in the middle.
“I just tried to be efficient when I was in there,'' Wragge said, “and make the most of my minutes.''
Prior to this season, Wragge had never averaged more than 16.2 minutes per game in any season. He's played an average of 26.3 minutes in Creighton's first 16 games this season.
He's on pace to establish career highs in almost every statistical category but none is as impressive as the accuracy with which he is shooting his trademark 3-point shots. Wragge has put up 124 attempts from beyond the arc and made 61 (49.2 percent).
He ranks fifth nationally in 3-point percentage and fourth in 3-point baskets per game (3.81). He has made four or more shots from beyond the arc in 11 of Creighton's 16 games, the most recent time coming in Sunday's 95-89 win over Xavier.
Wragge made five 3-point shots in the win, the final three coming in a 62-second span early in the second half that allowed the Bluejays to turn a four-point halftime lead into an 11-point bulge. Each shot came a little deeper on the court, with the final one delivered from 30 feet in transition.
“I rarely show emotion when I'm out there,'' Wragge said. “But that last one was crazy, and I even did one of these (fist pumps) after that one fell.''
As a freshman, Wragge made 68 3-point baskets to break the program record for a first-year player that was held by Ryan Sears and Kyle Korver. Wragge came into this season with 224 3-pointers, and has moved into second place behind Korver on Creighton's career 3-point chart.
Wragge now has 285 3-point baskets and would need 87 more to break Korver's record of 371. The Bluejays have a minimum of 15 games left to play this season, but could play as many as 24 more.
“I'd have to have an insane stretch to even get close,'' Wragge said.
His coach isn't going to put it past him. Wragge is as good of a shooter as any that Greg McDermott has coached.
“And I've coached some good ones,'' he said, “and we have some good ones on this team.''
The dead-eye shooting will be the legacy that many Creighton fans will remember Wragge for after he leaves the program. McDermott's memories will focus on something else.
“I'm proud of Ethan and I'm happy for the success that he's having,'' the coach said. “He's sacrificed a lot and probably doesn't get the credit he deserves for our success the last three years. We would not be the team we are without Ethan Wragge.''
Creighton returned to the Associated Press rankings Monday after a six-week absence by landing the No. 20 spot in this week's poll. The Bluejays had been No. 20 in the Nov. 25 poll before losing two out of three games at the Wooden Legacy tournament.
Since then, Creighton has won nine straight, with eight of the victories coming by margins of 10 points or more.
The Bluejays jumped four spots in the USA Today coaches poll to 19th. Creighton had been tied for 23rd in last week's rankings.
» NOTES: Four of Butler's six losses this season have come in overtime, including three of the Bulldogs' four in Big East play. “They might be the unluckiest team in the country,” Greg McDermott said. “When you look at their season, they are maybe six possessions away from being 14-2 or 15-1.” … Creighton leads the series 4-3 but the teams have not played since 1975. … Butler coach Brandon Miller played against Creighton when he was a freshman at Missouri State during the 1998-99 season. Miller transferred and finished his playing career at Butler. … Creighton's nine-game winning streak is tied for the seventh-longest string of victories in the nation. … Former Nebraska coach Barry Collier, now Butler's athletic director, is expected to make the trip to Omaha for the game.