INDIANAPOLIS -- Doug McDermott could be national player of the year. Doug McDermott probably should be national player of the year. To watch him at work for one game day is to see how, and why.
A Thursday in the life of arguably the best player in America this season ...
It is nearly 1:30 p.m. in Hinkle Fieldhouse, and Creighton’s shootaround is nearly finished. But first, Doug McDermott has more work to do.He begins in the right corner and starts lofting jumpers, one after another. Five, 10, 15. Nearly all go in. Then he moves to the right wing, the top, the left wing, the left corner. Shot after shot.
Nearby, sports information director Rob Anderson has Creighton’s up-to-date notes. McDermott’s extraordinary feats require multiple pages.
Such as, if he is named The Associated Press first-team All-American for the third consecutive year (it’s a lock), he’ll become the first man to do it since Patrick Ewing and Wayman Tisdale. They played 29 years ago.
And, he’s second in the nation in scoring with a 25.3 average, and has been held under 19 points only twice through 23 games. This despite the most earnest efforts of every Big East defense to slow him down.
And, he’s been player of the week in the Big East this season. Six times.
And, he’s closing in on becoming only the eighth man in Division I history to score 3000 points. That’s even a rarer feat than getting 3000 hits in baseball. McDermott will soon pass Babe Ruth’s total, one No. 3 moving by another.
And, he’s an opponent’s worst nightmare at crunch time, hitting 7-for-9 from the field and 20-for-24 from the line in the last minute of games the past two seasons.
And, he starts games as if he is an Indy car getting the green flag. Twelve times this season he has hit double figures in scoring -- before the 12-minute media timeout in the first half.
Meanwhile, his father and head coach is chatting with some visitors. Anderson retells the story of years ago when Greg and Doug got into a spat on the sideline, and the picture of it went viral. On the next Father’s Day, Doug texted greetings to his dad, and included that picture. On Doug’s 22nd birthday last January, Greg texted him greetings, and a bunch of pictures of Doug as a little kid.
There are more stories, but practice is over. It closes with the entire Creighton traveling party in line to shoot a free throw. Managers, radio people, the works.
Most everyone makes his attempt. McDermott goes last. He misses. The Bluejays leave, Hinkle goes back to being quiet in the afternoon sunlight.
It is 6 p.m., an hour before tipoff, and the Creighton team is back at Hinkle. Bruce Rasmussen -- current director of athletics and new member of the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee -- has come along, and is asked for his vote.
Is McDermott player of the year?
“I haven’t seen the others play enough to say that,” he says. “But I will say he’s an amazing young man. I think sometimes in basketball we just look at raw talent and underestimate instincts and skills. On those, he is off the charts.’’
It is an hour later, and McDermott begins the game with a power move, then a Dirk Nowitzki fadeaway special, then a long 3-pointer that has the big Hinkle audience atwitter. It is not yet 8 minutes into the game and McDermott already has 10 points, so Anderson will have to update that fast-start number to 13 times.
It is two hours later, and Butler has a two-point lead in the final minute. McDermott gets the ball at the top of the 3-point arc -- one of the places where he spent so much time earlier in the day -- and immediately puts up a shot. It goes in with 49 seconds left. Creighton wins, to go 20-4. McDermott finishes with 26 points.The TV folks want to interview him, so he is delayed getting off the court. “There’s one more coming,” Greg McDermott tells the security guard by the Creighton locker room when he walks in, but doesn’t say just who. In a minute, the guard can figure out who; the guy wearing No. 3, escorted by three police officers.
It is 45 minutes later, and father and son are in the press room for their media conference.
Greg is asked the question he gets at nearly every stop, about what it is like to coach his son. His answer is as efficient as his team’s offense.
“It’s been one of the pleasures of my life to have these four years with my son,” he says. “It’s unbelievable how fast it’s gone.”
Doug is asked about that last play, and if he feels the burden to always make it.
“Really I don’t, because we all have confidence in each other. We have a lot of guys on this team who are capable of making plays. I think they look to me first, but a lot of teams try to take me away, so another guy has to step up.”
It is 10 minutes later. Greg is on the way to his radio show. Did he really believe Doug would hit that last shot?
“I did, because he missed one just like it at St. John’s, so I knew he was due.”
About that player of the year candidacy.
“It’s not something that he or I think about, or spend any time dwelling on. That’s somebody else’s decision. I do think he’s done an awful lot as a college basketball player that not many others have done.”
Greg looks at his son, standing in the middle of a sudden Hinkle fanfest.
“There’s no book out there on how to handle everything that he has gone through the last four years,” he says. “Doug’s got a way of making everybody he meets feel like the most important person in the world. As a parent, I couldn’t be more proud of that.”
It is 35 minutes after the game, and Doug McDermott is still being asked to smile for this camera or that one.
He pauses to ponder the national player of the year question, a subject starting to get more buzz, even as he tries to ignore it.
“I try to stay off Twitter as much as possible,” he says “I mean, I could never have dreamed of seeing my name on TV like that. To be honest, it’s pretty surreal at the moment, so I’m kind of living in a bubble right now.
“I use it as motivation more than anything. I’m all about winning. We’re having a lot of fun winning games. At the end of the season, if I happen to get it, I’ll be excited. If not, I’ll be happy either way.”This night had a happy ending, certainly. Did he notice that the shot he hit was from the same spot where he had taken an extra 20 in practice eight hours earlier?
“The more work you put into something, the more efficient you’re going to be when the games come,” he says. “If I wouldn’t have shot a bunch of those shots [earlier in the day], I might not have made that shot.”
There are more people waiting. More pictures to take. He rolls with it.
“There’s a lot of attention, but it’s good to have that attention rather than have the negative attention. It shows that I’m doing something right.”
Besides, he understands one thing. “I know this is my last go-around. We’ve just got to enjoy ourselves.”
This has been his first official game in historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, and McDermott proclaims it “probably the sweetest place I’ve ever played.” Just four days before, he had been at Madison Square Garden.
He has seen the movie Hoosiers, of course, but did he realize the winning shot he just made was very close to where the fictional Jimmy Chitwood and the real-life Bobby Plump hit theirs on this very court?
“Unreal,” he says. “I’ll have to watch that on the flight home, maybe.”
It is 90 minutes after the game, and the last fans are finally gone. Creighton, too. The Doug McDermott Show is headed for another town, and another test. So it goes for the player of the year in waiting.