He knew he was ready.
But did they?
Doug McDermott, the top scorer for No. 17 Creighton (7-0), understood the stakes of his first preseason with the Bluejays last year. He had zero guarantees, even though his father, Greg McDermott, ran the program.
Flanked by experienced players, McDermott needed a combination of unforeseen circumstances and hard work to crack the rotation.
Senior Casey Harriman missed most of the season with a shoulder injury. And sophomore Ethan Wragge struggled with a foot injury that limited him to action in just nine games.
“I really didn’t know what was going to happen. They were thinking about redshirting me,” McDermott said. “I kind just kind of used that to work harder during the offseason before my freshman year and that paid off for me. I was put in a spot where I could play right away. … I thought I was ready the whole time.”
So the opening was there, but was his game?
During a preseason scrimmage against Colorado, McDermott made plays uncommon for a freshman who was expected to redshirt. That's when he proved to himself, teammates and an uncertain coach that he was ready for Division I basketball.
“I just kind of got in the flow. And that carried over into the exhibition games,” he said. “And then, my confidence grew higher and kind of carried that throughout the whole season.”
The 6-foot-7 forward parlayed that successful audition into the Missouri Valley Conference’s equivalent of a halftime performance at the Super Bowl.
By the end of the 2010-11 season, he’d become the first freshman in 59 years to earn first-team All-Valley honors. He scored more points (581) than any freshman in league history and earned the conference’s newcomer of the year and freshman of the year honors, too.
This year, he’s averaging 23.7 points per game, the fifth-highest mark in America. He dropped 25 points on San Diego State on Nov. 30. He followed that performance with 24 points against Nebraska on Sunday.
“It all happened so fast. We got off to a great start as a team. My teammates are just doing a great job of finding me,” he said. “But I still [have a] long ways ahead of me, still a long season. We’re just focused on getting wins.”
The season really started for McDermott this summer.
He was one of 12 players picked to represent the United States in the U19 FIBA World Championship in Latvia, where he averaged 11.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
“It just showed my potential and it was a great experience for me, brought a lot of confidence coming into this season,” he said.
As he competed next to players such as UConn’s Jeremy Lamb and Florida’s Patric Young, he realized that he was closer to the upper echelon of college basketball than he'd previously thought. Others recognized his growth, too, as evidenced by his preseason All-America consideration.
But the big stage has not intimidated McDermott.
He joined North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes on one of the greatest high school teams in Iowa prep history. Their Ames High School squad (Ames, Iowa) went 53-0 and won two state titles in their junior and senior seasons.
“I played in a lot of tough environments in high school and I think that helped me out, playing in bigger atmospheres than college, because I had Harrison Barnes on my team,” McDermott said. “Everywhere we went, it was a big-time atmosphere. Some guys, it’s tough for them to adjust to that in college, but I think that was a big part of [my transition] as well.”
He’d been recruited by a handful of Division I schools and ultimately settled on Northern Iowa.
But when his father left Iowa State last year to fill the Creighton vacancy created by Dana Altman’s move to Oregon, McDermott followed family.
He didn’t receive any special treatment, however. And that’s still the norm.
McDermott said his father puts pressure on him and never allows him to cut corners. But when the postgame pep talks end and he exits the locker room, their relationship reverts to its origins.
“We’ve had our ups and downs. There’s been the moments where I’ve hated it, but I’ve also liked it a lot,” he said. “He’s a good coach and he’s going to get after me a little harder than some of the other guys. I think after my freshman year I kind of matured from that and understood why he’s doing it. It’s been really good so far and I think it’s just going to continue to build our relationship and bring us even closer when it’s all said and done.”
At this pace, the latter won’t come for some time.