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Seeing what Creighton has done without him has Nate Funk charged up about the possibilities of what the Bluejays can accomplish next season with him.
Funk's season came to a premature end when he underwent surgery on his left shoulder Jan. 5. Since he played in just six games, he is eligible for a medical redshirt that will allow him to regain his final season of eligibility.
Funk said Friday he's definitely coming back, and he's already thinking about what next season will be like playing alongside teammates that have made giant strides since he left the lineup.
"I'm proud of the guys because they've won a lot of games that a lot of people didn't think they would," Funk said. "A lot of people doubted them. Coach has them playing the right way, and he's had to alter the style a little bit. Some of the games haven't been pretty but they get the job done.
"Everyone has stepped up at different times and in different games. What they've done gives me a positive attitude about next year. I'm pretty excited about next year."
This was supposed to be the year that Funk took the Bluejays to great heights. He was an All-America candidate on a team that was being talked about as having Sweet 16 possibilities. Then came the hard fall late in a Nov. 30 loss at DePaul that marked the beginning of the end for Funk.
He missed a month, then tested the shoulder in road losses at Illinois State and Bradley. Three days after the Jan. 2 loss to the Braves, noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews performed surgery on Funk in Birmingham, Ala.
"He told me that it was a good thing that we did it, that I had a pretty big tear," Funk said. "I have a tear in my right shoulder but it's not quite as big and it's going to heal on its own. But the left one, there was no question that I had to have it done."
Funk already has started rehabbing both shoulders, doing exercises and trying to regain the strength in his left one. He had been required to wear an apparatus that kept his left arm close to his body but ditched that on Thursday.
"I hope I never have to wear that thing again," Funk said.
He said he's been told that he's already ahead of schedule in his rehab and that he hopes to be able to get back on the court by the end of February.
"They say it's usually six to eight weeks, but I'm hoping it's six weeks because I miss playing so much," Funk said. "Sitting there watching the games kills me."
As difficult as it's been to watch, Funk has been pleased with what the Bluejays have accomplished without him. They are 12-2 without him, 8-1 since he's had the surgery. With Funk in the lineup, Creighton went 3-3.
The Bluejays have come a long way, Funk said, since a Dec. 6 loss at Chattanooga. That was the first game Creighton played without Funk in the lineup, and the Bluejays absorbed a 69-64 loss to a team that hadn't won a game against a Division I opponent to that point.
"We played so bad, and it seemed like at the end of that game that guys were afraid to step up," Funk said. "That's when I thought that this could get ugly if they can't turn this thing around. They've done an excellent job of doing that.
"I don't think anybody thought we'd be where we are right now. They have confidence in themselves, Coach has confidence and I have confidence in them. I'm proud of the way they've played so far this year."
Creighton is 15-5 overall and is in a four-way tie for first place in the Missouri Valley Conference. Senior guard Johnny Mathies and junior center Anthony Tolliver have emerged as the leaders of this team, but a number of younger players - particularly Nick Porter, Josh Dotzler and Dane Watts - have played huge roles in the success.
"Some of the guys might not have gotten the opportunity they've gotten if I were still playing," Funk said. "Maybe this is a blessing in disguise that this happened. I took up quite a few minutes but other guys have stepped up to fill them.
"Everyone has contributed in their own way, and that just develops them and gets them ready for next year. I watch the games and I think about next year already. I'm done for this year and my offseason starts now. I'm looking forward to getting ready to go for my second senior year."
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