Editor's Note: In the buildup to Midnight Madness, we are taking an in-depth look at Joe Lunardi's top-five seeds in a series called Countdown To Madness. In addition to the Insider pieces, Eamonn Brennan will offer Three Big Things about each team and we'll have Five Questions with a player or coach from each squad.
Creighton star Doug McDermott has always taken a simple approach to avoiding the spotlight that hovers over him and his Bluejays teammates.
“I just ignore it,” McDermott said. “I pretend like it’s not even there.”
That may have worked the past two years.
But it may not be as easy for McDermott in 2012-13.
No college player will enter the upcoming season with as much buzz as the 6-foot-8 junior forward. McDermott’s 23.2 points per game ranked third in the nation and earned him All-American honors as a sophomore, and the accolades could easily enhance this season.
Less than three weeks before the start of official practice, McDermott has already been projected as the national player of the year by some publications. As a team, Creighton will likely be ranked among the top 15 or 20 squads in the country.
McDermott -- whose father, Greg, is the Creighton head coach -- spoke with ESPN.com on Monday.
What did you do this summer in preparation for the 2012-13 season?
I went to Indianapolis for three weeks to work with guys like Robbie Hummel and Darius Miller and Marquis Teague to improve my ball-handling. That’s an area I really need to improve. Then I went to the LeBron camp and the Amare camp in Chicago. At the Amare camp, I was an undersized 4, so I shot a lot of 3s. There were more centers there than I thought there would be. At the LeBron camp, I was able to play more of a 3 so I could go against wings like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mike Moser. I went head-to-head with a lot of guys like that. It was a good experience for me. Then, with the new rules, we were allowed to do more stuff as a team at Creighton. So it was good to spend time with everyone here.
What about this year’s team makes you think Creighton could have just as good a season as it did last year -- if not better?
We’ve got so many guys returning. We lost [point guard] Antoine Young. He was a big part of what we did. But I’ve got confidence our new guy, Austin Chatman, will be very good for us. He’s really unselfish. Then we’ve got guys like [center] Gregory Echenique. He’s done a really good job of getting his body right. He was around 290 or 300 when he got here and now he’s down to about 265. He’s taken a lot of pride in it. He played for the Venezuelan national team this summer and helped them try to qualify for the Olympics. He was really motivated for that. It’s just carried over. He played really well in the summer and has gotten even better since school started. Guys like Grant Gibbs and Josh Jones are back, too. They’re looking really good.
What do you think is the main thing Creighton needs to improve on as a team? Something this team needs to do to take things a step further?
It’s obviously defense. That’s our main concern. We felt like we could score with anyone last year. That’s certainly something we don’t want to back down from. We still feel like we’re going to be a really good offensive team. But defense is what we’ve been working on the most. We know we’ve got to get better if we want to get past the North Carolinas of the world. A lot of people are going to be coming after us this year. For us, it’s all got to start on the defensive end.
The first thing people mention when describing your game is your fundamentals. Why are you so strong in that area?
A lot of people think my fundamentals are good just because I’m a coach's kid. But it’s not like a lot of it comes from that. It’s just about me approaching every workout as a game situation. It’s about trying to be at certain spots at the right time. I can see certain spots and certain angles that put me in a good position to score. I’m not the strongest guy so I have to make up for it in different ways.
You received a lot of national attention last season, and it appears even more of it will be coming your way in 2012-13. What are the keys to handling that type of spotlight?
There is a lot of attention around our team and around myself. I try not to look at stuff like that. I just try to get better every single day and everything will take care of itself. Playing at Ames High with Harrison Barnes, I got used to it at an early age. We were playing on ESPN and going into hostile environments. I just got good at blocking that stuff out and focusing on the task at hand.