Doug McDermott returned to school to take on the challenge of a new league

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

Doug McDermott is living college basketball’s version of the American Dream.

He’s spent his life in places like Cedar Falls, Ames and Omaha. He’s either undersized or not quite athletic enough, depending on what position you’re trying to pigeonhole him into, but he makes up for his tweener reputation by being arguably the best shooter in all of college basketball. He was a scrawny, 6-foot-nothing big man as a freshman in high school, “blossoming” into the sixth-man as a junior on a team that also included Harrison Barnes.

When it came time to pick a college, McDermott passed on a chance to walk-on at Iowa State, where his dad, Greg, was coaching, to sign a letter of intent at Northern Iowa. The only reason he ended up at Creighton was that Greg left ISU before being asked to leave, taking over for Dana Altman, who bolted Omaha for Oregon.

It was there that Doug began to live out the dreams of every kid that grew up in America’s Heartland: he averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 boards as a freshman, launching a college basketball career that will, in all likelihood, see him put his name along side the likes of Patrick Ewing and Wayman Tisdale as three-time AP All-Americans.

He went from “that other kid” on Harrison Barnes’ team to a fixture on Sportscenter and ESPN.com, from a mid-major afterthought to a guy that actively made the decision to forego being a first round pick in the NBA Draft.

His career has been the script of a Disney movie that seems just a bit too good to be true, but it would have ended before this season began if it weren’t for a little luck in conference realignment.

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The first time that Doug McDermott ever set foot in New York City was for an AAU tournament. His team in Iowa had traveled all the way to the Big Apple to play in front of scouts and coaches, to try and earn themselves a scholarship.

The trip was anything but glamourous.

“We took a bus,” McDermott said. “21 hours.”

(MORE: Check out the NBCSports.com Big East Preview. Where does Creighton rank?)

His second trip to NYC came last month. The McDermotts hopped on a chartered jet with a couple of other members of the Creighton program, flying from Omaha to New York to hit Chelsea Piers for Big East media day where they spent hours decked out in suits, giving interview after interview after interview. He answered questions about what it will be like playing in Madison Square Garden or Hinkle Fieldhouse, taking roadtrips to Philly and DC and NYC, playing in a conference whose name evokes so much history and hoops prestige.

“That’s a little different experience,” McDermott said with a laugh, but it’s precisely the kind of experience that McDermott is looking for. It’s one of the biggest reasons that the two-time Missouri Valley Player of the Year will enter this season as the Preseason Big East Player of the Year instead of starting out on the bench on some NBA team’s roster.

McDermott was ready to move on from the Valley, and the new league provided him with precisely the landing spot he was looking for.

“I feel like I really accomplished as much as I could have playing in the Valley,” he said. “I wanted a new challenge, and if the Big East weren’t there, I think the decision [whether or not] to come back would have been a lot easier. I think I would have gone. The new challenge of playing against new teams and traveling to different cities.”

“The excitement around our school and our program is at an all-time high right now, and it’s tough to walk away from that.”

McDermott was effusive in his praise for the Missouri Valley, and it sounded sincere enough to make it clear that the savvy 21 year old wasn’t simply following the fundamental rules of speaking to the media: compliment everyone. He said he’ll miss the conference and the traditions of the league, that he’ll miss the long-standing rivalries and the familiarity of the fan bases. He specifically mentioned his disappointment in losing the rivalry with Wichita State, a statement that anyone with a proper appreciation for college hoops will agree with.

So understand, when McDermott says he was ready to move on and he needed a new challenge, he wasn’t taking a swipe at the Valley.

He’s just being honest.

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

“In the MVC, everyone seems to kind of have people figured out. That’s why sometimes we would hit a rough patch, like in February when we lost a couple in a row,” McDermott said. “It’s kind of the way it is, it’s a grind. I think the Big East will be that way as well, but it’s going to be new for some of these teams that are playing us. It’s something I thought about, it’s going to feel like an NCAA tournament kind of game the first time around. That’s something that I’m really excited about.”

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The relationship between Greg and Doug is as strong as it has ever been, but when Doug made the decision to enroll at Creighton, he knew that turning Dad into Coach Dad wouldn’t be the easiest transition to make.

“It was really tough at first. I wasn’t a huge fan of it,” Doug said. “It’s almost annoying, like, ‘Man, I’ve heard this stuff over and over again for 18 years, and now it’s in a different tone and he’s yelling at my teammates and my friends?'” But they’ve grown since those first weeks, slowly learning how to keep basketball on the basketball court and family time back at the house.

“Now that everything’s established and we have a good group of guys that understand the whole situation, it’s been really easy,” Doug said. “When we have a tough day and coaches really get on us or something, it’s not like I’m going to be on my dad’s side. Everyone’s in the same boat. I’m pissed off at him too.”

The pinnacle came during Doug’s decision-making process last spring, when McDermott had to choose whether he wanted to lead his father’s program into the Big East or if it was time for him to head off to pursue a career as a professional. Greg never pushed for Doug to stay put, even though he knew it that having an all-american on his roster would allow the Bluejays to compete for the league title in their first season.

“I was completely honest with Doug about the feedback that I received from NBA teams,” Greg said. “Some of it was great, some of it was middle of the road and some of it was ‘I’m not sure if this guy guards, I’m not sure what position this guy plays.'”

“I was proud that he was able to navigate through the process and come to a decision that was best for him. I’m proud as his coach, but I’m also proud as his father.”

Ironically enough, Doug’s decision to return also forced his dad’s hand.

Starting point guard Grant Gibbs received a waiver that will allow him to be eligible for a sixth season, meaning that Creighton was one scholarship over the limit of 13.

Doug, who could become the first player since the mid-80s to be a three-time first-team all-american, is now a walk-on. It’s also the first time that he’s received special treatment since joining the program.

“The only thing is [when] my dad is talking to the team, it’s, ‘Alright, all you scholarship guys and Doug, come watch film’. I’m like, ‘C’mon man’. Everyone was laughing, telling me I’ve got laundry today.”

Maybe things aren’t that different at home and at practice after all.

No. 5 Villanova beats Tennessee 85-76 in Battle 4 Atlantis

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 16: Jalen Brunson #1 of the Villanova Wildcats drives against Elijah Long #55 of the Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers in the first half during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KeyBank Center on March 16, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Jalen Brunson scored 25 points to help fifth-ranked Villanova rally from 15 down and beat Tennessee 85-76 in Thursday’s semifinals at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

The Wildcats (5-0) trailed 44-29 with 1:39 left before roaring out of a break with a dominating run. Villanova scored the first 11 points as part of that 23-2 burst, with the Wildcats playing far more aggressively and getting out in transition.

Mikal Bridges added 21 points for Villanova, which shot 52 percent after halftime and built a 15-point lead with 4:40 left before having to hold off a late rally by the Volunteers.

Grant Williams scored 20 points for Tennessee (3-1), which clawed to within 79-76 on Admiral Schofield’s 3-pointer with 51.6 seconds left. But that was as close as the Volunteers got, with Villanova hitting four free throws and getting a breakaway dunk from Donte DiVincenzo with 13.2 seconds left to seal it.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers were coming off an overtime win against No. 18 Purdue in the first round and they were poised to add an even bigger upset. But that flat second-half start wiped out a strong half’s worth of work and squandered the momentum that came through their board work and converting turnovers.

Villanova: That’s two straight days the Wildcats put together a second-half spurt to take control in the Bahamas. They did it in Round 1 against Western Kentucky to finally break the game open, but this one — full of active hands, deflected passes and guys diving on the floor — brought them back in a game that was once getting away from them.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers will play the North Carolina State-Northern Iowa loser in Friday’s third-place game.

Villanova: The Wildcats will play the N.C. State-Northern Iowa winner in Friday’s championship game.

VIDEO: Mike Brey celebrates Maui win shirtless

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Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey celebrated his team’s win in the Maui Invitational by going shirtless in the team locker room:

This came after Brey spent the entire tournament coaching in shorts and a t-shirt:

Mike Brey (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

I think it’s safe to say Brey enjoyed himself on the islands.

No. 13 Notre Dame lands come-from-behind win to beat No. 6 Wichita State in Maui

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Notre Dame led twice during Wednesday night’s Maui Invitational title game.

At 4-2, and, after Martinas Geben hit the second of two free throws with 2.3 seconds left, at 67-66.

That score would end up being the final, as the 13th-ranked Irish erased a 14-point second half deficit to knock off No. 6 Wichita State and bring home that Maui trophy.

Bonzie Colson led the way with 25 points and 11 boards while Matt Farrell chipped in with 15 points, four assists, four boards and three steals. Geben chipped in with 12 points, including those two free throws that served as the eventual game-winners.

Beyond the simple fact that they did it against one of the best teams in the country, what makes this comeback so impressive is that the Irish didn’t rely on a flurry of threes to change the course of the game. This comeback came through grit, toughness defensively and, if we’re being honest, a little bit of luck.

With less than 20 seconds left on the clock and the Irish down by three points, Colson airballed a pretty good look at a three from the top of the key. On the ensuing inbounds, Farrell stole the ball and happened to find Colson under the rim for a layup. The lead was cut to one, and Wichita State proceeded to miss the front end of a one-and-one after being fouled.

The ball once again ended up underneath Notre Dame’s basket, but this time it was the Irish ball, and after a gorgeous inbounds play, Geben headed to the line for two shots. The first shots somehow managed to go down after bouncing off the back of the rim, the backboard and the front of the rim twice.

And with that, Notre Dame would get off of the islands with another quality win for their résumé and a title to their name.

No. 8 Kentucky finally has it easy against Fort Wayne, 86-67

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Nick Richards had career highs of 25 points and 15 rebounds, and 70 percent first-half shooting propelled No. 8 Kentucky to an 86-67 rout of Fort Wayne on Wednesday night.

Kentucky’s 19-of-27 shooting before halftime countered the Mastodons’ eight 3-pointers that kept them close for a while. Once Fort Wayne started missing, it couldn’t match the length or speed of the young Wildcats (5-1), who eventually led 78-48 with 6:50 remaining on the way to their most decisive win this season.

Richards thrived in both halves and on both ends, making 9 of 10 from the field and all seven free throws for his first career double-double. The 6-foot-11 freshman’s previous highs were 10 points against Utah Valley and nine rebounds against Kansas last week.

Quade Green, Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander each added 11 points as Kentucky shot a season-best 33 of 55 (60 percent) and dominated the rebounding 44-21.

Junior guard John Konchar had 19 points and Bryson Scott 18 for Fort Wayne (3-2), who had won three in a row before losing on 40 percent shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Fort Wayne: A year after upsetting Indiana, the Mastodons led Kentucky 37-36 with 3:51 left in the first half behind 8-of-22 shooting from long range. They went cold from outside and elsewhere after that and the Wildcats pounced to lead at the break and stretch the advantage to 30 points in the second half. The Mastodons’ 12 3-pointers were their third-highest total this season.

Kentucky: Something had to give after all those tense performances and the Wildcats thrived because of their size and best shooting effort this season. Richards couldn’t be stopped on either end, and teammates seemed in sync for the first time. Sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel came up just short of a double-double with 10 rebounds and nine points.

UP NEXT

Kentucky hosts Illinois-Chicago on Sunday to wrap up the Rupp Classic before getting a few days off.

Fort Wayne visits East Tennessee State on Saturday. ETSU lost 78-31 to Kentucky last Friday.

VIDEO: Providence beats Belmont on Kyron Cartwright’s buzzer-beating three

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We got the first wild buzzer-beater of the college basketball season on Wednesday night, as Kyron Cartwright answered a Belmont bucket with 3.7 seconds left by going 94-feet to hit a leaning three at the buzzer:

Providence won the game 65-63.

Cartwright finished with 17 points in the win.