|Doug McDermott is shooting 62 percent from the floor, 56 percent from beyond the arc. (US Presswire)|
OMAHA, Neb. -- Evaluating players is an art form. It's become arduous for college basketball coaches because of heightened access restrictions, which has led to the challenge of determining a high school player's work ethic, intangibles and even support system.
Mistakes are made all the time, but this one was different.
Greg McDermott had seen this particular recruit play seemingly a million times, in every scenario imaginable. He had a great feel of his mental makeup off the court, his willingness to work on it. McDermott knew the kid and his game inside and out.
It was his son, Doug.
And he didn't think his kid could play in the Big 12.
"I mis-evaluated my own son," Greg McDermott said with a smile. "I admit it."
McDermott was the head coach at Iowa State for Doug's four years in high school at Ames High -- where he played alongside a kid, Harrison Barnes, who ultimately became the No. 1 player in the country and now stars at North Carolina.
But the younger McDermott wasn't a "can't miss" kid by any means. He played on the sophomore team his second year at Ames High and came off the bench his junior season. All the big boys -- North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky and the other dozen or so schools that were going hard after Barnes -- watched McDermott countless times, and they felt the same way as his father.
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"He was a 6-foot-7, 185-pound frontline player who had a developing perimeter game," the elder McDermott said.
There were awkward times throughout the recruiting process, times when Theresa McDermott -- after watching her son come off a strong performance in a high school game (the team didn't lose a game in his final two seasons) -- would bring up the possibility.
"She'd drop plenty of subtle hints," Greg said.
"Mom thought he was good enough," Theresa added. "But Greg was looking at the bigger picture."
There was more to it, more than just whether Doug was talented enough to compete in the Big 12 against bigger, stronger and more athletic players. There was the fact that Greg McDermott and Iowa State weren't the ideal marriage.
"I wasn't proud of the culture at Iowa State -- and it was 100 percent my fault," Greg said. "It was all my doing, but it wasn't a family atmosphere."
So the pair had a father-son or maybe more of a coach-recruit talk and each side decided to move on.
"We decided it wasn't a good idea, and then we didn't discuss it anymore."
Until April 25, 2010.
That was the day McDermott met with Creighton's long-time athletic director, Bruce Rasmussen, who had just lost Dana Altman to Oregon. The younger McDermott had an idea his father might be the leading candidate for the job because of a conversation he had with Rasmussen back when he was being recruited by Altman and the Bluejays.
"He was telling me how great my dad was," Doug said. "And that if anything happened with Dana, he'd call my dad."
Greg McDermott huddled with his family that Sunday night and decided to take the job. The Missouri Valley was more suited to his style -- and Creighton is considered the elite job in the league. Doug's eyes lit up when he was told his dad would be heading to Creighton.
But the family had this other matter to discuss. Greg coaching his kid.
"It was a no-brainer for me," Doug said.
"Me, too," Greg said.
Doug had already signed with Northern Iowa, his father's old school, and former right-hand man, Ben Jacobson. The high-majors didn't think he was worthy and Altman didn't even offer him a full scholarship coming out of Ames. He would have had to pay and redshirt the first season and then he'd be on scholarship for the final four.
"We were both excited about the opportunity," Greg said. "And Ben was great about the whole situation. He understood."
McDermott was let out of his letter-of-intent and was headed to play for his father at Creighton. Even though it was clearly a step down from the Big 12 to the Missouri Valley, Pops still wasn't certain he was physically ready to play as a freshman. There were serious thoughts from the coach about redshirting the new kid with the unorthodox game.
Then came the scrimmage against Colorado in Denver. McDermott was without three key players, so he had little choice but to play his son. Doug started and finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.
"The thought of redshirting motivated him," Greg said. "He wanted to prove his old man wrong."
There were some bumps in the road last season, words between father and son on the court. Just about once every practice Greg would have to go after his son -- and this was an adjustment for both seeing that Greg had never coached his son at any level.
"His body language was bad last year," Greg said. "But it's improved 100 percent."
McDermott wasted no time establishing himself, setting the league record with 581 points as a freshman. He averaged 14.9 points, 7.2 rebounds while making 41 percent of his 3-pointers. But he still wasn't sure he could play with the big boys. He still remembered all the times he and Barnes would go down to Iowa State and play pickup with the college guys.
"I didn't think I could compete with those guys," Doug said. "It was frustrating because I didn't feel like my game was good enough."
That changed this past summer when he was one of a dozen players selected by USA Basketball for the U19 team that competed in Latvia. He averaged 11.3 points and 6.1 rebounds on a team that also featured likely first-round picks Jeremy Lamb (UConn) and Patric Young (Florida). His swagger soared and it has carried over to this season. He put up numbers that make Jimmer Fredette's from last season appear relatively ordinary through the first 12 games.
McDermott is second in the nation in scoring (24.8), ranks just outside the Top 50 in rebounding (8.6) and is shooting 62 percent from the field and a sizzling 56 percent from 3-point range. "Stupid numbers," is how Missouri State star Kyle Weems referred to them, and the elder McDermott just shakes his head in disbelief after they are recited to him.
"It's crazy," Doug said. "Less than three years ago, I was coming off the bench at Ames High as the sixth man. But I know I've still got a ways to go."
"At times it doesn't seem real," Greg added. "His consistency surprises me the most. People try to guard him in so many different ways, but he finds a way to get easy baskets. He just has a great feel and scores quietly."
For the record: The Jimmer's numbers through the first 12 games a year ago: 24.2 points, 48 percent from the field and 35 percent from long distance.
But their games are like night and day. Where Fredette would wow fans with 30-footers and off-balance shots in the lane, McDermott toes the 3-point line and does much of his damage by running the floor hard, posting up his now 220-pound frame and driving his defender as close to the rim as possible while using his soft, feathery touch around the basket. His ability to get the ball as quickly as he does from his hands to the rim is remarkable.
Doug McDermott jokes that there is one correlation between the two: Neither will be viewed as a lock-down defender.
McDermott has become a phenomenon in Omaha, but it hasn't quite caught on nationally -- as Jimmer did last season. Theresa McDermott brought home three T-shirts for the family's Christmas swap that read: "T3ACH M3 HOW TO DOUGI3" with the E's turned into 3s in honor of his jersey number.
|'I mis-evaluated my own son,' Greg McDermott happily admits these days. (US Presswire)|
Even though he's playing as well as The Jimmer did, Doug McDermott fever won't catch on as Jimmer-Mania did a year ago. Maybe it's because his game just isn't flashy enough -- or maybe the name is just, well ...
"Don't you make fun of the name," Theresa said with a grin. "My oldest son, Nick, named him."
No one is poking fun at McDermott anymore, not after seeing what he has done. His dad has gotten an up-close look, but Barnes is keeping tabs from a distance.
"It's very cool to see," Barnes said. "He's improved so much. He's always had a knack for rebounding and being around the ball. He's always been efficient -- it's rare to see him shoot a poor percentage. What's really impressed me is his ability to transition from being a role player to the go-to guy on his team."
That's still an adjustment. In Wednesday's loss to Missouri State, McDermott didn't play one of his better games yet still managed to finish with 19 points and 12 boards. But down the stretch he was passive.
"It's a difficult situation for him," Greg said. "He's still only a sophomore and his dad is the coach. He's still figuring it all out."
What's clear now, though, is that his kid can play. He's excelling in the Missouri Valley, but Doug McDermott could flourish anywhere.
"The Valley fits me well," Doug said. "The four-men are a lot like me. They aren't 6-9 athletic guys. I'll always be curious if I could play in a conference like the Big 12."
But there are no regrets these days. Life is good -- on and off the court.
Now the younger McDermott smiles when the cell phone rings and is shows the following: "COACH MAC"
"I don't think it does get any better than this," Theresa said. "I'm saying no. It's kind of a fairy tale."
Except this one is real.