Doug McDermott’s career still missing most important part: His One Shining Moment

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — For three weeks every spring, as the country thaws out from another long, cold winter, the nation’s eyes turn towards the NCAA tournament.

The attention it generates is unlike any event in sports, thanks in large part to the over-saturation of games, the one-and-done nature of the event and the fact that every person fills out a bracket in an effort to make a couple bucks in their office, frat, high school clique and church book group’s tournament pool.

If you’re ever going to cut out on work, is there a better time than when you can turn a two-beer lunch into a four-beer happy hour while watching four win-or-go-home games simultaneously? I wonder how many sick days are used on the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament?

The entirety of American sporting culture is focused on the Big Dance for those three weeks.

It’s why legends are made in March.

What happens when a player has already become a legend without his Madness Masterpiece?

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Doug McDermott will tip off his final regular season game on Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. at No. 13 Creighton hosts Providence, capping off a career that will never be duplicated.

Ever.

The 6-foot-8 senior forward is 34 points against from becoming just the eighth player in college basketball history to score 3,000 career points. He’s a shoo-in for the 2014 National Player of the Year awards. He’s going to be the first three-time, first-team All-American since Patrick Ewing and Wayman Tisdale did it back in 1985, when Greg McDermott, Doug’s father, was still a sophomore forward for Northern Iowa. He spurred the Big East to pluck Creighton — located in Omaha, NE — from the Missouri Valley to join the likes of Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette in the mew-look Big East, and as a result, he should become the first player in NCAA history to be named Player of the Year in two different conferences. He’s currently the two-time reigning Missouri Valley Player of the Year.

And to think, this is all coming from a kid whose own father, now the head coach at Creighton, didn’t even think he was good enough to play at Iowa State when he was the head coach there. Doug was going to follow in pops’ footsteps and play at Northern Iowa before the elder McDermott made the decision to leave Iowa State before he got canned and take over at Creighton.

He’s a once-in-a-decade talent buried inside a once-in-a-generation story line. There will never be another player quite like Doug McDermott.

But his story isn’t done yet, because his resume, his legacy, isn’t complete. Hersey Hawkins and Lionel Simmons scored a ton of points in college, but they are rarely, if ever, mentioned in the same breath as college basketball icons — and national champions — like Christian Laettner, Tyler Hansbrough or Danny Manning. Carmelo Anthony will never buy a meal in Upstate New York after he led Syracuse to the 2003 National Title. Kevin Durant’s one season and second round exit at Texas will be a footnote in every biography written about him.

Jimmer Fredette was a phenomenon, but Kemba Walker is a legend. Everyone will remember Steph Curry leading No. 10 Davidson to within a shot of the Final Four. Do you know where Damian Lillard went to college? Even Adam Morrison will forever be remembered for his March Madness moment, crying on the court after Gonzaga blew a 17-point second half lead.

A great career will make you an answer to a sports question at your local pub’s trivia night.

That One Shining Moment, however, is what lives on forever.

“I thought about that a lot coming back,” Doug McDermott told NBCSports.com in the bowels of the Verizon Center after Tuesday night’s loss to Georgetown. It was Creighton’s second straight road loss to start the month of March. The Bluejays had made the tournament the last two years, bowing out in the Round of 32 both seasons. “I think we’re capable of winning more than one game in the tournament, which is all we’ve been able to do the last two years. It’s something I dream about, something I just can’t wait to get to. We’ve gotta focus on what’s now, but that’s the one thing that’s missing from my resume.”

To a point, it’s an unfair burden for McDermott to bear. To be able to dominate offensively for three straight seasons despite being the focal point of every single defensive game-plan is incredible. What he’s done in the Big East this season is proof that rolling through Missouri Valley defenses wasn’t a fluke. The problem, however, is that what he did in the Valley went largely unnoticed unless you happened to check a box score the next morning or noticed a stat-line on the scrolling ticker during the Kentucky game. This season’s performance has been easily the best of his career, but it will be forgotten by the Sweet 16 if he can’t get his team out of the first weekend of the Big Dance.

To his credit, McDermott gets it.

“The lights are brighter, everyone’s out watching you,” he said of the tournament. “I think the grind of the regulars season speaks for itself. I don’t think you can evaluate a player over two or three good games.”

“On the other hand, the best play their best basketball in March.”

That, at least, is the narrative this time of year.

Such is life for a college basketball star.

“That’s the nature of college basketball,” senior guard Grant Gibbs said. “It’s not fair that you’re judged on your postseason.”

“But you’ve got to accept that’s the way that it is. You build all year for that moment.”

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Is this the year? Can McDermott and Creighton finally play their way out of the first weekend and into the Sweet 16? Is he going to be remembered like Jimmer Fredette or Jay Williams?

The irony?

It’s going to depend on his teammates.

What makes Creighton so dangerous this season is that they’ve surrounded McDermott with a group of guys that are all lethal three-point shooters, which essentially puts opposing defenses into a situation where they have to pick their poison: try to stop McDermott by sending help and hoping the shooters miss their open looks, or stay on the shooters and hope that you can contain McDermott 1-on-1.

The past two games, both losses, Creighton has shot 20-for-63 from beyond the arc. In Tuesday’s loss, Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat combined to shoot 1-for-11 from three. That’s not going to cut it.

Doug McDermott, the player with more individual accolades than anyone in this generation, could very well have his One Shining Moment this spring, but it’s going to be determined by the guys sitting in that locker room with him.

“We have four seniors that have almost 20 years of college basketball experience in that locker room,” Greg McDermott said. “They get it. They know I trust them.”

Doug agreed.

“I think the best is yet to come.”

Like his career, Frank Martin has built South Carolina from the ground up

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NEW YORK — It was after he finished watching South Carolina cut down the Madison Square Garden nets, after he had spent the better part of 30 minutes giving interviews on the court, after he was spotted by the CBS cameras, with a fist raised and tears pooling under his eyes, that the enormity of what he had just witnessed hit Darius Rucker.

“Gosh,” he said to everyone and no one in particular as he left the arena floor and made his way through the bowels of the Garden, “I can’t believe that just happened.”

The ‘that’ that Rucker, South Carolina’s most famous and, quite possibly, biggest fan, was referring to was a 77-70, come-from behind win over No. 4 seed Florida that jettisoned the seventh-seeded Gamecocks through the Elite 8 and into the Final Four. Prior to this season, the Gamecocks hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament in 13 years. They had been to four NCAA tournaments in the previous 43 seasons, and they had never won back-to-back tournament game.

As in not ever.

“We’re in the Garden, watching the Gamecocks play to go to the Final Four,” Rucker said. “If you’d have told me that ten years ago I’d have told you that you were on crack.”

That’s the program that Frank Martin inherited in 2012, when he left Kansas State following a falling out with his athletic director, John Currie. Like South Carolina, Kansas State was hardly considered a destination job when Martin was at the helm, but he was able to build off of a foundation created by Bob Huggins. Martin had been to four NCAA tournaments in five years with Kansas State when he made the decision to leave. Nothing is more important to Martin than loyalty. “He’s always had a core group of people that he’s counted on,” his agent, Bret Just, said, and Currie was not one of those people.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came during the 2012 NCAA tournament. Kansas State was a No. 8 seed, squaring off with No. 1 seed Syracuse when Martin was informed by Currie that Jamar Samuels, one of his best players, would not be allowed to suit up. The school had stumbled upon information that Samuels had received a wire transfer for $200 from his AAU coach, and he was going to be suspended.

And that was that.

Martin was off to South Carolina.

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

“It was a situation where we had to go,” associate head coach Matt Figger, who has been with Martin for the last decade, said, and it wasn’t exactly the easiest or smartest decision to leave. Most understood why Martin had to make the change that he made — he was offered a hefty raise and he had the chance to leave a place of employment where he did not get along with his boss — but it wasn’t as if Martin was climbing the ladder. If anything, South Carolina was a step backwards, as Martin took over a program with less pedigree and with a significant building job in front of them.

“I didn’t really know until I got into it. It was a much different deal. It looked easier on the surface than what it really was,” Figger said. “The best players transferred. Bruce Ellington, he’s with the 49ers now, he was the one guy that we could trust and he played football half the year. Couple of the guys that were the holdovers, I don’t think they believed in what our vision was. After a year, some of them left.”

“We had to start this from scratch.”

The process was slow in the early stages. Martin replaced Darrin Horn, who had won just 10 games and finished dead last in the SEC in his final season on campus, and didn’t post a .500 record until his third season in Columbia. Even then, that team went just 17-16. He won 15 SEC games in his first three years combined. After a late season swoon cost South Carolina a shot at the 2016 NCAA tournament, there was speculation that another year without a trip to the Big Dance could spell the end of Martin’s time with the Gamecocks.

“It was hard!” Martin’s wife, Anya, said. “You see he’s losing his hair. It’s all turning white. It was tough in the beginning. I had to ask him a couple of times, ‘Why here?’”

The easy answer is that it wasn’t Kansas State, but the truth is more complicated than that.

Martin is not a man that is afraid of a challenge. He’s not intimidated by a job that isn’t easy to do, not when you come from where he’s come from, when you’ve coached on the path that he has coached.

Martin got his first job when he was 12 years old, working at a Dairy Queen to help his mom pay the bills when his dad walked out on them. His coaching career started a year after he graduated high school, when he was just 19 years old.

“I tore my ACL the year before,” Martin said, “and my high school coach asked me to come help him, because the kids in the neighborhood respected me so much.”

He was nothing more than an assistant with the team at Miami Senior High School, helping out when and where he could, when the head coach of the JV team didn’t show up for work one day. Shakey Rodriguez, a legend in the Miami High School basketball community, told Martin he would be coaching that day, and he hasn’t looked back since.

“By his second season,” Martin’s mother, Lourdes, beaming as she held back tears of joy, said, “he was 22-0.”

Even as Martin was coaching, he was still working on the side, most famously as a bouncer in Miami’s nightclub scene. He needed a degree, so he took night classes at Miami-Dade College before enrolling part-time at FIU. His future was capped if he didn’t graduate.

“He made it out,” she added, holding on to her grandson to steady herself as the moment washed over her. “He had many, many jobs, and then God was up there and blessed him.”

Martin would go from the high school ranks to Northeastern, taking a paycut just to get his foot in the door. He spent four years as an assistant and met his wife — “My wife turned me down seven times to go out on a date,” he said. “Seven. Seven. And the day she made the mistake of going out on a date with me, I never let her go.” — before moving on to Cincinnati, where he joined forces with Bob Huggins, spending two seasons with the Bearcats before following Huggins to Kansas State. He replaced Huggins as Kansas State’s head coach a year after joining the program and just seven years after he joined the collegiate coaching ranks. He would take the Wildcats to more NCAA tournaments in his five seasons at the helm than they had been to in the previous two decades combined.

“Frank’s never steered away from a challenge as long as I’ve known him,” Anya said. “He’s overcome any obstacle in his way, just ‘I’m going to make it work.'”

“He’s a builder,” Just said.

And he’s done just that at South Carolina.

“I’m happy as any mom could be,” Lourdes said. “Speechless, but not all the way. I have to talk to him about my air ticket.”

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Martin spoke many times about the dream of leading this team to this moment, but he didn’t always believe that the dream of taking the Gamecocks to the Final Four was a realistic possibility.

“When we beat Duke, Frank said ‘Why not us?’” Figgers said, a motto that had become something of a rallying cry for the Gamecocks during the East Regional. “That’s the first time we really talked about [winning a title].”

The team and the coaching staff weren’t the only ones that never really gave this possibility much thought. College basketball at large — the fans, the media, opposing coaches — all had the same thought: “South Carolina in the Final Four? The same team that put up 86 points in four overtimes against Alabama? Lulz.”

They showed us.

Over and over again.

South Carolina’s star guard Sindarius Thornwell, who was named Most Outstanding Player in the East Region, mentioned in every press conference this weekend that no one paid attention to or respected the program prior to this run. Martin ranted earlier this year about the lack of local media coverage his team gets, particularly when they play on the road.

At this point in the season, most players get burned out of the media attention they get, answering the same questions over and over and over again.

I don’t blame them.

On Sunday evening, after spending 25 minutes up on the dais for a postgame press conference, Thornwell was finally en route back to the locker room to celebrate with his team when he was pulled aside by a television reporter that needed just a couple more minutes of his time.

Thornwell, decked out in a East Regional Champs shirt and hat with the remnants of a net dangling around his neck, didn’t mind.

“You gotta talk a lot,” Thornwell said, “when you win.”

Drake hires Furman’s Niko Medved to be new head coach

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Drake has hired Furman head coach Niko Medved to the same position, the school announced on Sunday.

The 43-year-old Medved has led the Paladins to back-to-back CIT appearances as he’s been the head coach there for four seasons. Also an assistant coach at Minnesota and Colorado State, Medved is a noted recruiter.

“I am ecstatic about the opportunity to be the next men’s basketball coach at Drake University,” Medved said in the release. “Drake University’s tremendous reputation partnered with its strong leadership and the thriving Des Moines community make this a special place.  I was born and raised in the Midwest and have so many strong roots in this part of the country.  My family and I can’t wait to get started.”

Medved was named the Southern Conference’s 2017 Coach of the Year for helping lead Furman to the regular-season title in the league.

The Bulldogs are coming off a last-place finish in the Missouri Valley Conference as former head coach Ray Giacoletti was relieved of his duties in January. Drake only has one NCAA Tournament appearance since 1971 (coming in 2008) as the Bulldogs have struggled to remain relevant in a tough league.

VIDEO: North Carolina and Roy Williams dance in locker room after advancing to Final Four

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Watching Roy Williams dance never gets old.

The North Carolina head coach is taking his team back to the Final Four next weekend after the Tar Heels outlasted Kentucky in a thrilling South Regional final.

North Carolina is making its 20th appearance in the Final Four as they are going for the second consecutive season.

2017 NCAA Tournament Final Four schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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National Semifinals– Saturday, April 1

6:09 p.m. EST, CBS, Glendale
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Approximately 40 minutes after conclusion of first game, CBS, Glendale
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 3 Oregon (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

VIDEO: The insane final 10 seconds of North Carolina’s win over Kentucky

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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North Carolina and Kentucky ended in legendary fashion on Sunday.

After freshman Malik Monk buried a heavily-contested three-pointer to tie the game at 73-all for Kentucky with under 10 seconds left the Tar Heels didn’t use a timeout as Theo Pinson found forward Luke Maye for the game-winning jumper.

These 10 seconds will go down as one of the greatest finishes in NCAA Tournament history.