|Greg McDermott has now made the Big Dance in four of his past five seasons as an MVC coach. (US Presswire)|
ST. LOUIS -- Doug McDermott was a kid before he was an All-American.
He was a normal kid just like my kid or your kid -- just a kid who looked up to his father and watched his father on a daily basis. And what he saw when he watched his father on a daily basis coach Iowa State for four years was a frustrated man overwhelmed by a college basketball world that at times seemed unfair. What he saw when he watched his father was a man out of his element.
"I saw it every single night when things we're going wrong," Doug McDermott told me Sunday. "It was really hard on him. The Missouri Valley fits him a lot better."
Greg McDermott agrees.
"I think we all know recruiting is a little different at the BCS level, and this fits me a little bit better," he said. "You recruit families here. There are a lot less people in their ears [in the MVC] than what I dealt with at Iowa State. I coached some great kids at Iowa State, but their motivation was different. They wanted to play in the NBA and it was my job to get them there. My job at Creighton is to help Creighton win basketball games."
And he's doing a good job at that.
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Greg McDermott stood on a stage Sunday afternoon and accepted a trophy. He had just won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title. He had earned an automatic bid to next week's NCAA tournament, but he didn't need it. Creighton had already secured an at-large bid because the Bluejays had won 27 of their first 32 games. So the pride of Omaha was merely playing for seed, which is a testament to the job McDermott has done since leaving the Big 12 for the MVC.
That's a backward move in most folks' eyes.
It's BCS to non-BCS.
It's Big Monday to ... wherever the MVC's games are televised.
But for McDermott it was the right move, the smart move, the move that turned a dwindling career into a pleasing experience where almost anything now seems possible. He has gone from the coach of a bottom-tier Big 12 program to the coach of the MVC champions in only two years. He has spent this season standing on the sideline and watching his son -- that used-to-be kid who is now an All-American -- average 28 points and eight rebounds per game, and he's happy and content and ... fortunate.
That's the truth.
It's not often that a man can go 18-46 in a power league in four years and land a better job, but that's exactly what McDermott did. He did it because Dana Altman left Creighton for Oregon in late April 2010, and because Creighton athletic director Bruce Rasmussen was smart enough to realize McDermott A) was way better than his record at Iowa State indicated, and B) needed an escape route from a job that was eating him up just like it eats lots of good men up.
Bill Self belongs at the high-major level.
So does John Calipari.
So does Jim Calhoun.
Those men -- and countless others -- understand what it takes to succeed in that world, and they do it well. I would hire any of them for their current jobs. But I wouldn't hire McDermott for any of those jobs. I would hire McDermott for Creighton. Or Northern Iowa. Or Wayne State. Or anywhere you're judged by whether you can coach.
Such simply isn't the case at the high-major level. Coaching matters but it doesn't matter much. I would say coaching is about 20 percent of the job at the high-major level. You don't, for the most part, out-coach people in the Big 12. You mostly recruit better or worse than the opposition and finish accordingly. And you pray outside influences don't knock you off course.
Greg McDermott wasn't so lucky. He had to dismiss his leading scorer, Mike Taylor, after one season because the future NBA guard couldn't stop being an idiot. Then McDermott lost a future lottery pick, Wesley Johnson, to the lure of Syracuse. Then McDermott couldn't keep in-state star Harrison Barnes at home because top prospects tend to prefer North Carolina to Iowa State.
Those are the things that doomed McDermott at ISU.
Those are the things that don't matter anymore.
These days, McDermott can focus on his team and mostly disregard the rest. He no longer has to consistently deal with agents and runners and financial advisors and shoe companies, no longer has to compromise his integrity to try to win games. Everybody in the MVC gets about the same caliber of recruit. Then it comes down to experience, coaching and the one prospect who turns out to be better than anybody anticipated.
Which brings me back to Doug McDermott.
He's way better than anybody could've possibly anticipated.
He has gone from "Harrison Barnes' teammate" to a legitimate All-American candidate in a span of two years, and he got 33 points Sunday in the MVC tournament title game victory against Illinois State. Now he'll be the reason Creighton will get a decent seed in the NCAA tournament, and he might be the reason his father goes from the verge of being fired to the Sweet 16.
Greg McDermott had one more year at Iowa State. Who knows how many more he could now have at Creighton? He's a better fit in Omaha than Ames, a bit better in the MVC than the Big 12. He's one of the best stories in college basketball, and that's not something anybody would've typed after one of his two 11th-place finishes at Iowa State.
"We're all happy as a family," Doug McDermott said. "We couldn't be more thankful."