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.”

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.