Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Creighton’s McDermott Draws Comparisons to Bird, Nowitzki
NEW YORK — The Big East Preseason Player of the Year has never played a single game in the Big East Conference.
He has never competed in Madison Square Garden, either.
Oh, and did we mention that he’s a walk-on?
Meet Doug McDermott, who joins the league for his senior season as Creighton moves into the Big East along with Butler and Xavier.
First things first. There has probably never been a Big East Preseason Player of the Year who was also a walk-on.
But McDermott gave up his scholarship to teammate Grant Gibbs over the summer after Gibbs was given a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.
Tuition at Creighton is $34,000 and the McDermotts will reportedly pay half that amount because of the school’s benefit package.
“Gibbs should be paying,” McDermott cracked Wednesday at Big East Media Day. “He’s the one that took my scholarship.”
Creighton was picked third in the Big East behind Marquette and Georgetown because it returns three third-year players, a fifth-year player in Ethan Wragge, a sixth-year player in Gibbs and three fourth-year players, including the 6-foot-8 McDermott, who averaged 23.2 points and 7.7 rebounds and was a consensus first-team All-American.
While playing with the USA World University Games team over the summer, Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, a White Plains, N.Y., native, called McDermott “the new and improved Dirk Nowitzki.”
Villanova coach Jay Wright, who worked this summer with USA Basketball when McDermott attended the mini-camp with the senior national team, made another comparison.
“I think Doug’s a very versatile player,” Wright said. “That’s what I saw this summer. He can play on the perimeter with those guys in the NBA and he can rebound against them. He’s a versatile, complete player.
“I know this is a corny analogy, but it’s more the Larry Bird in that he can take you on the perimeter but he can take you inside. He can get the mismatch, he’ll post you up. And defensively he’ll rebound for them. I can see the playing him at some 5 this year. I can see them offensively playing him at some 3.”
McDermott averaged a team-best 14.1 points while playing with the World University Games team, and was then one of just two college players — along with Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart — invited to the senior team’s minicamp.
“With the summer I had playing with USA, I feel like my game’s at a really good point right now,” McDermott said.
Pretty impressive stuff for a guy who only had offers from Creighton, Northern Iowa and Central Florida coming out of Ames (Iowa) High School, where he played alongside Harrison Barnes.
“I wasn’t really recruited highly,” he said. “I feel that’s what’s made me the player I am, just kind of the chip on the shoulder to prove something out there.”
Now, after three years in the Missouri Valley Conference, McDermott is the Preseason Player of the Year in a league he has never played in.
Shoot, this was only his second trip to the Big Apple.
“It’s a little weird,” he said. “I feel like it’s a big honor and I’m respected around the league. But it means absolutely nothing at this point. I feel like the expectations are even higher and I’m really going to use it as motivation throughout the year, just because we’re the new guys. We have to prove something out there.”
Creighton figures to have an advantage coming since none of the other Big East teams are used to playing them…or defending McDermott.
“I think it goes both ways, obviously,” Greg McDermott, Creighton’s coach and Doug’s father, told SNY.tv. “We haven’t seen them either, but when you haven’t played us before and played a team that stretches the floor and has as many guys that can shoot the ball as well as we do, it’s a different preparation than maybe what they’re accustomed to.
“So a lot of people have said how are going to adjust to the style of the Big East? Well, we’re not. We’re going to try to make people adjust to how we play. We’re not going to change who we are . We’ve had success in the past against very good basketball teams. Our margin for error just got a little smaller, that’s all.”
Plus, Creighton is coming off a victory over former Big East outfit Cincinnati in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, a game in which Doug McDermott went for 27 points and 11 rebounds.
“That was big for us looking back,” McDermott said. “It was a blessing in disguise. They were really athletic and long and had those physical shot blockers. It definitely prepared us for this new league.’
Big East fans will also have to get used to traveling to Nebraska, where CenturyLink Center seats 17,260.
“It’s a huge advantage, we have great fans,” McDermott said. “They come out for every game. I think it will surprise some of the teams from the East Coast. They won’t really be expecting that, but they’ll really appreciate our fans.”
After losing to Duke in the second round of the tournament, McDermott thought long and hard about coming out into the NBA Draft.
“I was really close,” he said. “I went back and forth every day. It was one of those deals where it just came down to the last second where I just followed my heart, and my heart was with Creighton, with the fans, and just with college basketball.
“I feel like a lot of younger kids make the decision to jump for the NBA, not for the right reasons, and I just felt I had to do it for college basketball and for myself.”
Now, having never played in Madison Square Garden, McDermott will play his postseason tournament there.
As a senior and as a walk-on.
“Watching the Big East tournament on TV, there’s been so many cool moments,” he said, “so now to actually be a part of that is really special.”
Photo: USA Today Sports
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.