He ranks third in the nation with a scoring average of 23.6 points per game. Still, as good as Doug McDermott has been for Creighton this season, the Wooden Award candidate is hardly the only reason the No. 12 Bluejays are 21-2 entering Saturday’s game at Northern Iowa.
“Everyone,” wing Grant Gibbs says, “has found their own way to contribute.”
That includes Gibbs, the 6-foot-4 Gonzaga transfer who averages a team-high 5.8 assists and 1.2 steals.
Without him, Creighton finished 23-16 overall and 10-8 in the Missouri Valley Conference last season. This year, his leadership and court presence has helped take the Bluejays to a new level.
ESPN.com conducted a 10-minute question-and-answer session with Gibbs after Thursday’s practice.
What’s the atmosphere like in Omaha these days?
People are really excited because of the start we’re off to this season. But what’s crazy is that it’s been like this for years. The people of Omaha love Creighton basketball. Even last year, when we were .500, we still had 15,000 season-ticket-holders. It’s a sports city. There’s no doubt about that.
Creighton leads the nation in field goal percentage (51.6) and assists (19.3). Why has your team been so efficient offensively?
It’s unselfishness and ball movement. There’s no doubt that those are the biggest reasons on why our offensive numbers are where they’re at. Guys are being unselfish and making the extra pass. We’ve gotten really good shots. We shoot a really high percentage. We play inside-out because we’ve got two really talented bigs in Doug McDermott and Greg Echenique. We play through them and they’re both willing passers. We get a lot of open 3s and other shots because of those guys. There’s no question our unselfishness is what makes our offense go.
Speaking of unselfishness, I heard an interesting tale about you involving McDermott and some technical fouls at Nebraska. What happened?
It was a stagnant game. Nebraska was doubling Doug and doing a bunch of stuff to mess up his rhythm. There was a situation where I got fouled (while shooting) and then they got nailed with two technicals (one on a player for arguing the call, another for coach Doc Sadler leaving the bench). So we had six free throws to shoot. I thought we needed to do something to get Doug going. He hadn’t had many good looks and he’s a good free throw shooter. I told Coach, ‘I’ll shoot the two I have to shoot, but let Doug take the other four so he can get his confidence back and his rhythm going.’ I knew we were going to need him down the stretch. He made me look like a genius, because he ended up scoring 10 points in the last 10 minutes of the game. Note: Creighton won 76-66.
Doug is received a ton of notoriety this season and is even garnering some mention in national player-of-the-year conversations. What impresses you the most about him?
He’s a low-key guy about stuff like that. Doug’s best quality is his ability to not pay attention to any of that stuff. He’s so quiet and unassuming as our star that it’s almost as if he doesn’t really believe the kind of hype he’s received and how good of a year he’s had and how good he is as a player. Any time your star player is like that, it keeps the rest of us very grounded. We feed off of his approach of being focused every game and every practice.
Your playing the “three” position for Creighton, but anyone who only reads box scores would probably assume you were a point guard because you’re averaging 5.8 assists. Do you sense that a lot of people are confused?
I’ve been a point guard my whole life. That changed when I got to college here. Coach (Greg) McDermott has watched me play for so long. He understands where I can be successful. In this system it’s almost like being a point-forward. Distributing the ball, getting people the ball ... that’s my strength. It’s what I do.
What’s the chemistry like between yourself and starting point guard Antoine Young (4.5 assists)?
He’s tremendous. Last year he had to shoulder a lot of the burden of trying to create plays. We didn’t have a lot of playmakers. It wore on him a little. Having me here to make a few plays has opened the game up for him a little. He’s having a great senior year and is really playing well down the stretch. He’s a big reason we’re doing what we’re doing.
What was your experience like at Gonzaga and why did you want a change?
It just wasn’t a good fit in any facet. I jumped the gun by going there. I should’ve thought it over a little more. Most of the problem was being hurt. I sat out my whole freshman year with a torn labrum in my shoulder. Then I played sparingly my redshirt freshman year. I had tendinitis in my knee but I tried to play through it. When I decided to transfer here, I had a whole year to get healthy and get everything back together. I’m extremely fortunate to have landed in this situation. It couldn’t have worked out much better.
Which opponent have you been the most impressed with this season and why?
We’ve played a lot of teams that aren’t getting nearly enough attention, teams that are sneaky-good. San Diego State was really good. That was a big win for us. Wichita State was really good. I don’t think they’ve gotten the kind of exposure they deserve. I think they’re a top 25-team.
Any particular game on your remaining schedule that you’re looking forward to the most?
They’re all big from here on out, there’s no doubt about that. We play Northern Iowa on Saturday, and that’s really close to where I’m from. I grew up about 40 minutes away. They’ve lost some close games, but that’s a team we’re very familiar with. Any time we play them it’s going to be a close game. But like I said, they’re all big. Playing Wichita State again is going to be fun, and we’ve got a great opportunity to play Long Beach State in the BracketBusters game. They’re a quality team. We know how good they are.