Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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

Leave a comment

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.”

Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top 100 Players


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)

POSITION RANKS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wings | Big Men

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.

CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | ACC | Pac-12 | Big Ten

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.

Subscribe to the CBT Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or Audioboom


“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.

CONTENDER SERIES: Duke | Oregon | Kentucky | Kansas | Villanova

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.

fullsizerender-1
Travis Hines

BYU guard Nick Emery announces retirement from basketball

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PROVO, Utah (AP) — BYU guard Nick Emery said Tuesday he is retiring from basketball following a college career that began with high expectations but that ended with him at the center of an NCAA investigation.

Emery used social media to announce he is stepping away with a year of eligibility still remaining.

“My time here has been rocky at times, but the good times definitely outweighed the bad,” Emery wrote in an Instagram post also shared to his Twitter account. “I’ve learned so many life lessons and this journey has been so rewarding. I am at a point in life where I am happy with what I’ve accomplished with basketball and I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life with my wife and son.”

The school confirmed the retirement.

“We are excited for Nick as he begins this next stage of his life,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said in a news release. “He has great things ahead.”

Emery made a splash right away at BYU, averaging a career-best 16.3 points per game during his first season and setting a BYU freshman record with 97 3-pointers. He helped the Cougars reach the semifinals of the 2016 NIT.

After playing for two years, he withdrew from school for the 2017-18 season, citing personal reasons. The 6-foot-2 guard returned to the program in 2018 and he began his third and final season serving a nine-game suspension following the NCAA investigation.

The NCAA last year placed the men’s basketball program on probation for two years and said it must vacate 47 wins from Emery’s freshman and sophomore seasons.

The NCAA said Emery received more than $12,000 in benefits from four boosters, including travel to concerts and an amusement park and the use of a new car. The NCAA also accepted the university’s self-imposed penalties of reducing one scholarship, disassociation of one of its boosters and a $5,000 fine. The NCAA didn’t identify Emery by name but the university said the case involved him.

Emery averaged 12.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game over his three seasons with the Cougars.

With grad transfer Jake Toolson joining BYU from Utah Valley for the upcoming season, Emery’s role with the Cougars would likely have been greatly reduced this fall. Toolson earned WAC Player of the Year honors as a junior after averaging 15.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists for Utah Valley.

NCAA punishes DePaul for basketball recruiting violation

AP Photo/John Minchillo
Leave a comment

CHICAGO (AP) — The NCAA suspended DePaul men’s basketball coach Dave Leitao for the first three games of the regular season Tuesday, saying he should have done more to prevent recruiting violations by his staff.

The NCAA also put the Big East program on three years of probation, issued a $5,000 fine and said an undetermined number of games will be vacated because DePaul put an ineligible player on the floor. An unidentified former associate head coach is also facing a three-year show cause order for his role in the violations.

According to an NCAA infractions committee decision, in the Spring of 2016, the associate head coach arranged for the assistant director of basketball operations to live with a prospect to help ensure the player did the work necessary to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. That arrangement violated recruiting rules. At the time, Rick Carter was DePaul’s associate head coach and Baba Diallo was the program’s assistant director of basketball operations.

“The head coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance because three men’s basketball staff members knew about the arrangement but did not report the violation or question whether it was allowable,” the NCAA said. “Even more troubling to the committee was the director of basketball operations stated he knew the contact was a violation but did not report it because he did not want to be disloyal, cause tension, get in the way of the associate head coach or otherwise hurt his career. … According to the committee, a culture of silence pervaded the program.”

Leitao was hired in 2015 and has pushed to return the Blue Demons to respectability in his second stint as head coach at DePaul. After a pair of nine-win seasons under Leitao, DePaul went 11-20 two years ago before going 19-17 and reaching the College Basketball Invitational championship last season, falling to South Florida in three games.

Leitao is also a former head coach at Virginia and his assistant stops include Connecticut, Missouri and Tulsa.

“The head coach did not monitor his staff when he did not actively look for red flags or ask questions about the assistant director of basketball operations’ two-week absence,” the NCAA said. “The committee recognized the head coach’s efforts to require staff attendance at compliance meetings and communicate with compliance officials, but it said he needed to do more.”

DePaul said it would not challenge the decision, but called it “disappointing.”

“This infraction was an isolated incident directed and then concealed by a former staff member that resulted in, at most, a limited recruiting advantage relative to one former student-athlete,” the university said. “Since our self-report in January 2018, DePaul has cooperated with the NCAA enforcement staff to proactively pursue the resolution of this matter and has reviewed and further strengthened related protocol and practice. … Coach Leitao is a man of character and integrity, who has the support of the administration in leading our men’s basketball program.”

DePaul was among several schools mentioned at a recent federal trial involving corruption in college basketball.

Brian Bowen Sr., father of a top recruit, testified in October that DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman paid him $2,000 a month to send his son to an Indiana high school where Heirman coached at the time. The school responded by saying it had done its due diligence on the matter and had previously investigated the allegations.

Zion Williamson signs with Jordan Brand

AP
Leave a comment

Zion Williamson may not be the next Michael Jordan, but he will be the next NBA player to don the Jumpman logo.

On Tuesday afternoon, Zion announced that he has signed with Jordan Brand, ending speculation about where the Duke product and biggest brand to enter the NBA in years, if not ever, will sign his endorsement deal.

Where Zion ended up signing was never the most interesting part of this process – although the fact that he ended up under the Swoosh’s umbrella after a Nike shoe blew out on him and nearly cost him his left knee. What we all want to know, and what is yet to be reported, are the terms of this deal.

Outside of LeBron and Jordan, I’m not sure there is a more marketable player in the NBA right now. Think about it like this: When I say Zion, even non-basketball know exactly who I’m talking about. There are only a handful of basketball players that is true for, and the only active ones are LeBron and Steph with KD and Kyrie potentially thrown in that mix.

That’s elite company, and none of those guys have the social media following or ability to go viral with the next generation of basketball fans like Zion does. He already has a global following, one which is only going to grow as he becomes more mainstream.

And while we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning this piece on how going to college made Zion a literal fortune. We’ll see if Nike’s investment in the 18-year old pays off.

Utah State star injures knee playing in FIBA U-20 event, reportedly not an ACL tear

Elsa/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Update (11:58 ET) According to a report from SPORT TV Portugal, Neemias Queta sprained and dislocated his knee, but it doesn’t appear to be an ACL tear.

The star center for Utah State suffered a knee injury while playing for Portugal’s U-20 team in the FIBA European Championships over the weekend.

Queta landed awkwardly while trying to grab a rebound and immediately reached for his left knee. He had to be carried off the floor without putting any weight on the leg, although he was eventually able to walk through handshake lines – with an icepack on his knee – after the game.

Queta did not return for Sunday’s final, and he had his knee wrapped while using a cane while watching from the bench. Portugal won the B Division championship despite his absence.

This would be a massive loss for the Aggies, who are a top 15 team in the NBC Sports preseason rankings and the clear-cut favorite to win the Mountain West. The 6-foot-11 Queta averaged 11.8 points, 8.9 boards and 2.4 blocks while shooting 40 percent from three as a freshman.

According to reports out of Portugal, Queta is due to undergo an MRI Tuesday.

 

Ex-Tar Heel Woods comfortable back home in South Carolina

Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard Seventh Woods can’t take a few steps around town these days without someone telling him it is good he came home. The former North Carolina player is happy with his latest choice, too.

“It’s been great,” Woods said Friday. “Family’s here, friends here. I’ve been getting along well with the players and the coaches.”

The 6-foot-2 Woods expected to be a collegiate force when he finished Hammond School in Columbia and picked the Tar Heels over Georgetown and South Carolina in 2016.

Instead, Woods was a backup during his time with the Tar Heels. He was part of North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament title team in 2017 but never averaged more than 11 minutes or three points a game during his three seasons in Chapel Hill . Woods missed 17 games with a broken foot during his sophomore season and averaged 2.5 points and 2.1 assists last season as backup to freshman Coby White.

In April, Woods posted on social media that it was time for a change. Woods will sit out next season per NCAA transfer rules and return to the court in 2020-21.

“I can focus on me getting into a groove,” Woods said. “Learning a new system and we didn’t want to rush anything.”

Woods, who turns 21 next month, gained attention during his middle school years for his ability to dunk and dominate opponents off the dribble at Hammond. He was a YouTube, basketball mixtape regular in the early 2010s, when ability like his was largely experienced in person watching youth games.

The buzz about Woods intensified the pressure for him to stay put and revive South Carolina. Woods felt differently.

“I just wanted to do what was best for me,” Woods said. “Going away was best for me at the time.”

Woods felt comfortable with the Tar Heels and believed it would be the best place for him to grow as a player and person.

“Only positives, all positive,” Woods said of his three years at North Carolina.

When Woods met with Martin to discuss is basketball future, the coach emphasized him taking some time away from games.

“Every time he dribbled, the crowd was sold out and every critic was out there criticizing everything he did wrong,” Martin said. “I have no idea how that young man has been able to keep the class he lives with under those circumstances.”

Woods looked at Gonzaga and Michigan before picking the Gamecocks this time. The relationship he built with Martin was rekindled the past few months and Woods was grateful to his new coach for this latest chance.

“I felt it was perfect timing just being able to come back home,” Woods said. “To come back to a coach who allowed me to come back home. That was big for me.”

Woods says he’ll spend his time improving his strength, consistency and outside shooting. He’ll be part of practices and knows that will help him develop chemistry with his future teammates.

His aspirations, as they were during middle school, are to play basketball professionally after college. He’s looking forward to a productive time off the court to recharge and improve.

“I feel like sitting out a year will be great for me and I’m going to try and use it to my advantage to make the most out of my senior year,” he said.