Beyond McBuckets: Creighton, Greg McDermott continue to work out of Doug’s shadow

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OMAHA — Creighton basketball is still here.

It’s understandable if you haven’t thought about them for the last two years, but the Bluejays are ready to make you remember them again. They never actually left, but they’re intent on being back.

When a place is home to one of the greatest careers in a generation, it’s hard not to see it as empty once that career is gone.

It’s going to be difficult, maybe even impossible, to separate Creighton basketball from Doug McDermott any time soon. And Creighton doesn’t really want to be separated from him, of course. He captured the attention of a nation and electrified the sport during his time in this city better known for college baseball than hoops.

Creighton, though, wants to be more than just Doug McDermott. The Bluejays have spent the first two years of the post-McBuckets era in a sort of purgatory. Forgotten by most, but building back toward relevance.

Now, as the Bluejays open the season as a top-25 team with one of the country’s best backcourts, they’re ready to reemerge.

“Putting Creighton back on the map,” senior point guard Maurice Watson told NBCSports.com. “I think it’s going to lead us in the future. I think this is going to turn into a basketball factory with the top talent we get here in the gym and the resources we have.

“To kind of start that off, start the rebuild back up, I think it’s going to be a lot for our legacies leaving college.”

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The legacy McDermott left at Creighton is undeniable. He scored 3,150 points. He shot 55 percent from the field and 45.8 percent from 3-point range. A three-time All-American, McDermott was the consensus National Player of the Year in 2014. He led the Bluejays to wins in three-consecutive NCAA tournaments, a program first.

That type of player leaving town after graduation would be tough enough for any program, let alone one just a year into its transition from the Missouri Valley Conference to the revamped Big East. It added another layer of complication, though, given McDermott’s dad, Greg, is Creighton’s coach.

“Obviously it was a thrill to be able to coach him,” coach McDermott told NBCSports.com. “As much fun and enjoyable as it was then, the further you get removed from it, the more special it becomes, I think for both Doug and I.

“I’m watching his (NBA) career from afar and trying to keep pace with what he’s doing with his career, but my focus is on this program and trying to get us back to the NCAA tournament.”

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14: Head coach Greg McDermott talks to his son Doug McDermott #3 of the Creighton Bluejays in the second half against the Xavier Musketeers during the Semifinals of the 2014 Men's Big East Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 14, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Creighton coach Greg McDermott talks to his son, Doug (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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Usually, it’s the son that needs to escape a father’s shadow, but it’s fair to wonder if that’s the reverse for the McDermotts. Greg’s first try at a high-major program featured four sub-.500 seasons in which his Iowa State teams never finished higher than eighth in the Big 12. His first season without Doug at Creighton, the Bluejays went 14-19.

“You’re going to have adversity wherever you’re at, whatever job you have,” Doug McDermott said to NBCSports.com. “We had it going there for awhile. You kind of expect a little bit of a fallback. I think he realized that.”

Doug wasn’t the only loss from that team as three other senior starters departed. That left an inexperienced group, some of whom were recruited with the idea they’d be challenging the likes of Wichita State, Northern Iowa and Indiana State for conference titles, not Villanova, Xavier and Georgetown.

“We moved to the Big East Doug’s senior year and that senior class we could have gone to any league in the country and been fine,” Greg said, “because of the experience we had on that team. That was a positive.

“The negative was all those guys who played behind those four seniors didn’t play a lot, and all of sudden they’re thrown into a role as seniors in the Big East the next year and they hadn’t really played a prominent starting role in our program. That was asking a lot.”

Creighton finished last that year in the Big East as the Bluejays transitioned to a Doug-less reality.

“We obviously knew when Doug left we needed to work harder,” senior Isaiah Zierden, who was a freshman during McDermott’s senior year, said “and figure out a way to fill that pretty big void.”

That 2014-15 season was a struggle, but appears to be a one-year blip. Instead going into a tailspin, Creighton steered out of the skid last year, missing the NCAA tournament but going 20-15 with four starters set to return and one enigmatic but talented incoming transfer ready to become eligible.


Marcus Foster wasn’t a particularly heralded recruit when he signed with Kansas State. He was judged as the country’s 40th-best shooting guard prospect by Rivals in 2013. He was a three-star recruit coming to a Big 12 that was welcoming the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.

After averaging 15.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and shooting 39.5 percent from distance as a freshman, however, he found himself as a bonafide NBA prospect and a first-team preseason all-conference pick in 2014-15.

And things couldn’t have really have gone much worse from there.

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Marcus Foster (Creighton Athletics)
Marcus Foster (Creighton Athletics)

Foster was benched and later suspended by coach Bruce Weber, saw his numbers tumble and was ultimately dismissed from the program.

“I just had my mind on other things,” Foster told NBCSports.com. “I was worried about trying to get to the NBA, trying to impress scouts, not coming to practice and working hard every day.”

Creighton is offering him a chance to reclaim not only his professional prospects but his public perception.

“That’s what we talked about when we recruited him,” McDermott said “We have to rebuild his reputation because he’s made some mistakes in the past and people are going to watch him with a real close eye.”

The 19-year-old who got the boot from Manhattan isn’t the 21-year-old who now resides three hours to the north, those around Foster at Creighton say. He’s someone with something to prove, beyond just that the season he put up as a freshman was no mirage.

“You have people around the world thinking something about you that’s not really true,” Watson said, “and thinking you are the person you aren’t. You’re a good person and people think you’re bad and that you’re a knucklehead when that really isn’t the case.

“When you’re on a stage like this, it’s all under a magnifying glass. That’s something he had to understand and I think he’s learned that now with a second chance.”

Foster spent a “humbling” year away from the game. Redshirting under NCAA transfer rules, he toiled in obscurity while his reputation remained in many minds tarnished.

“I’m glad it happened,” Foster said.” I feel like everybody in life has to face adversity, and I feel like that was my adversity I have to face. I learned a whole bunch from that experience my sophomore year which is going to make me a better person this year.

“I think more people want to see what I’m going to do. Am I going to turn it around? Am I going to stay the same?”

Now comes his reintroduction to college basketball, with a pint-sized running mate hell bent on finding super-sized success.

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“If you’re told you can’t do something long enough,” McDermott said, “you develop a chip on your shoulder.”

If there’s a chip on Maurice Watson’s shoulder, it very well may have been filled by now with heaps of bravado. A 5-foot-10 point guard who went to Boston University out of high school before transferring to Creighton, Watson does not lack for confidence.

“That’s who Maurice is,” McDermott said. “He’s been told all his life he’s not good enough, not tall enough, not quick enough, can’t finish in the Big East.

“And he’s constantly proved people wrong.”

He did it at Boston, ranking third in the country with 7.1 assists per game as a sophomore. He did it as a junior in the Big East, averaging 14.1 points and 6.5 assists per game last year for Creighton.

“Never in my life have I played with someone like Maurice,” Foster said. “He can get to the hole, he can shoot a pull up and he shoots threes now, and he can get his teammates open whenever he wants to.

“One of the best guards in the Big East.”

Watson’s confidence isn’t limited to his own exploits.

“We really want to go to the Final Four,” Watson said. “It’s a goal that’s realistic if you put the work in. You challenge your team to do something and you see everybody responding by being in the gym and having better practices.

“We’re going to shoot for the stars here. This is my last season so I want to go out with a bang. I haven’t made the (NCAA) tournament yet, and I think that’s going to change this year so why not make a run when that happens.”

If that run comes together, it figures to do so largely on the strength of the Watson-Foster backcourt, which is among the highest-regarded in the country.

“I think we can be the best one,” Watson said.

Watson is the floor general, Foster his second in command.

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OMAHA, NE - FEBRUARY 9: Maurice Watson Jr. #10 of the Creighton Bluejays drives to the basket past Edmond Sumner #4 of the Xavier Musketeers during their game at CenturyLink Center on February 9, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. Creighton defeated Xavier 70-56. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Maurice Watson Jr. (Eric Francis/Getty Images)

“He knows I’m going to be the leader of the team still,” Watson said, “get everybody shots, and I tell him I’ll make it easier for him as well. He’s kind of still not trying to do too much, still trying to let me run the team.

“He hasn’t done a lot with the ball. He’s been cutting and curling and popping and kind of letting me find him and learning how to play off me, which is good for him because I’ve already played and he has to come in and get his swag back.”

Said Foster, “We’re like best friends. We hang out all the time. When you see him, you’re going to see me. The connection’s already there on the court because we have it off the court.”

Both are capable – and prefer – playing at a breakneck speed, which will undoubtedly put pressure on Big East defenses.

“Maurice is one of the better passers I’ve ever coached,” McDermott said. “He’s able to find Marcus wherever he is on the floor. It’s a very good combination.”

It’s a dangerous combo in the halfcourt, too.

“We complement each other a lot because he can get (into the teeth of the defense),” Foster said, “and I can catch-and-shoot and knock down threes. It’s going to be hard for my defender, he’s either going to help and give up a three or not help and give up a layup from him.

“That’s why we’re going to be so hard to guard.”


Creighton’s strength may be in that backcourt duo, but the reason they’re a preseason top-25 team and a darkhorse to challenge Villanova and Xavier in the Big East is the rest of their depth. While they’re battling some injury issues, Creighton has starters Zierden, Cole Huff and Khyri Thomas back along with Watson and Foster. Top-50 recruit Justin Patton, a 7-footer from Omaha, is ready to contribute after redshirting last year.

“We had a rough year a few years ago,” McDermott said, “and we wanted to try and recover and rebound from that as fast as we possibly could.”

Creighton’s recruiting, as seen by Patton and four-star 2017 commit Mitchell Ballock, has quickly adapted to the Big East. Watson and Foster are the first wave of transfer reinforcements, and Kaleb Joseph, who will sit out this year after coming over from Syracuse, is the next.

Simply, it looks like Creighton is once again a program the nation can’t ignore.

“Creighton is used to winning and that’s just how it is,” Watson said. “They’re used to winning. That’s the tradition. That’s what you want to keep going.”

Even as Creighton’s success has dipped the last two years, they’ve routinely filled the 17,000-seat CenturyLink Center near capacity. The appetite for a winner could very well be met this year.

“(Fans) are so hungry for that,” Foster said. “I feel like they’re even hungrier this year because we have a team that’s going to be considered one of the best teams to ever play here. I think they’re definitely itching.”

Even with all the success Doug McDermott’s teams had and Kyle Korver’s before him and Paul Silas’ before him, the Bluejays have not played in an NCAA tournament Sweet 16.

“That’s our goal,” McDermott said, “not only get in the tournament, but have success in the tournament and go somewhere no Creighton team has ever gone.”

Even if the Bluejays don’t have a transcendent player, that goal seems in play as the season is set to open.

“They’re very talented,” Doug McDermott said, “and very capable of making a run. I think (Greg McDermott) has done a great job and continuing to recruit well. I think the future is really bright.”

Late last week the Bluejays took to their $13-million practice facility, opened months after Doug’s graduation, for practice. On the far side of the gym, is a massive banner featuring Doug’s likeness in a Chicago Bulls uniform, larger than life, suspended above the floor.

The Bluejays went through drills, competed against each other and ran sprints with spirited vigor, an effort to elevate themselves back to that level.

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Travis Hines

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.