Posted Apr 14, 2014 6:56 AM
Before his junior season at Ames High School in Iowa, Doug McDermott liked basketball, but he didn't love it.
He felt a sense of obligation to play because his father, Greg, was the coach at Iowa State. Doug could easily have gone the way of his older brother, Nick, who played basketball until his sophomore season in high school, after which he took up golf.
Then, one day, in the summer of 2009, Greg McDermott got a phone call. It was Will Brown, coach at the University at Albany. Brown had had success recruiting Iowa players, particularly those produced by the Martin Brothers' AAU program, and he liked McDermott so much he was the first coach to offer a scholarship.
"During the spring and summer [of 2009], we made it a point to follow the Martin Brothers' program," Brown said. "And I happened to see this long, lanky, gangly kid that I liked. Then I looked at his name and it's McDermott. You put two and two together, and it was Greg McDermott's son. So initially I thought Doug was going to Iowa State, because, even though he didn't have an Iowa State body, he had Iowa State skills."
Brown wasn't sure he had a realistic chance to land McDermott, but he put in the call anyway. That call, though, may have helped light the fuse that birthed the legend of "Dougie McBuckets," the man who would become the consensus national player of the year and the fifth-leading scorer in NCAA history.
"That's when I started to take basketball more seriously," McDermott said. "I got my first scholarship offer, and all of a sudden I realized I could go to college for free. That's when I fell in love with the game."
Brown's next call was to Greg McDermott.
"I said, 'Greg, no matter what you tell me, he's gonna end up playing for you,' " Brown said. " 'But we're gonna offer him a scholarship. You know the success we've had with Iowa kids and Martin Brothers kids. I think Doug would be terrific for us, but with that being said, I've got a funny feeling he's gonna be terrific for you.' "
Brown was right, but the McDermotts traveled a circuitous route to become the 21st century incarnation of Press and Pete Maravich. Doug signed with Northern Iowa, and when Greg left Iowa State to take over at Creighton, his son was released from his scholarship and joined him in Omaha. The rest is well-documented history.
McDermott averaged 14.9 ppg as a freshman, 22.9 ppg as a sophomore, 23. 2 ppg as a junior, and a nation-leading 26.7 ppg as a senior. His career numbers are mind-boggling -- 3,150 points, shooting percentages of 55 percent from the field, 45.8 percent from 3-point range and 83.1 percent from the free-throw line.
McDermott might have tried his luck in the NBA Draft after his junior season, but he made the bold move of staying in school and helping Creighton transition into a newly reconfigured Big East. NBA scouts were eager to see how well McDermott would perform against better competition than the Missouri Valley Conference had to offer. They saw plenty.
In Big East play only, McDermott averaged 27.7 ppg and 7.1 rpg while leading the league in field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage.
"At 6-8, 6-9, there's nothing he can't do," said Villanova coach Jay Wright, whose team won the league title but was beaten twice by Creighton by an average of 24.5 points.
"He can take you off the dribble, he's tough as hell guarding, he rebounds, he moves without the ball, he seals .... he's the best post player that we've played against, and he's the best perimeter player. And maybe one of the best passers. I think he's as good a basketball player as I've seen."
McDermott's Big East performance didn't surprise anyone from the MVC. Chris Jans, a former Wichita State assistant and now the coach at Bowling Green, laughs about the time McDermott broke loose against the Shockers.
"We were kind of known for keeping him down," Jans said. "The first three or four games against us, he was way under his average. Then he gave us 41 one day. It's like 'OK, that's over.' What I love about Doug, what I think his best quality is, there's not a player I've ever seen that the ball is in his hands less time than his. When that ball gets in his hands, it's gone. I don't care if it's on the perimeter or in the post. It's amazing. He's a chess player, so ahead of the game."
Over the next two months, NBA general managers will ponder how well will McDermott's multi-faceted offensive game translates to the NBA. He's no neutral observer, but Greg McDermott thinks his son has a coveted skill that will translate, even as the competition ramps up.
"I think in some ways it's hard to project," Greg McDermott said of his son's NBA future. "But I also believe if a guy can put the ball in the basket a lot of different ways, can read how you defend him and make a play based on how you defend him, that transfers to any level. There's so much space in the NBA, so guards can get to the basket and bigs can be effective around the rim. There's also space for a shooter, and Doug's a very good shooter."
Wright watched McDermott score 23 and 39 on a Villanova team that eventually became a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. But he had plenty of advance warning, having seen McDermott at close range last summer.
"I have a unique perspective," Wright said. "I was with [USA Basketball] last summer when [McDermott] played with the developmental team against the pros. And he played very well. Sometimes you watch a guy in college, and you think how is that going to transfer to the NBA. But I saw it, and everything he does here in college, he did [last] summer with those guys."
That performance boosted McDermott's confidence and set the tone for a senior season that saw him pass such luminaries as Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird on the NCAA's all-time scoring list.
"I was a little nervous at first [in the Team USA camp] because I didn't know how it would all go," McDermott said. "Once I made my first shot, got my first rebound, I felt like it was just basketball. I played well, and I didn't get rattled. If I made a mistake, I just moved on."
Since that performance, McDermott has sought counsel from Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward and Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons, NBA players with similar skill sets. McDermott's big takeaway? Next-level athleticism isn't essential if you're crafty, have a high basketball IQ and can shoot 50 percent from 3-point range.
Even Greg McDermott acknowledges his son won't ever again be a team's primary scoring threat. But, as one NBA general manager told NBA.com, "If he gets drafted to a good team, he can be a very good player because he knows how to play, and he can make shots."
Brown never saves the contact information of players he's recruited but wasn't able to sign. But five years after making that life-altering call to Doug McDermott, he still has the player's cell phone and email address. Brown just had a feeling McDermott was going to be special, and he wanted to stay in touch.
"If I had anything to do with helping him motivate himself to get to that next level and take it even more seriously, that makes me feel good," Brown said. "I thought he was a high-character kid from a great program and a great family, and those are the types of kids we like to recruit. I knew it would be a long shot. But I wanted to try.
"I'm glad he ran with it, and he's developed into the best player in college basketball. I'm so happy for him, the way his career turned out, and he's only getting started."
Chris Dortch is the editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.
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