Doug McDermott was keenly aware of the attention paid to the freshmen leading up to and early on this season. The hype machine bestowed upon Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and even Aaron Gordon. These were players who had yet to put the ball in the basket in a collegiate game while the Creighton senior had already registered in excess of 2,200 points.
There was a part of McDermott that was relieved.
"I loved it," McDermott admitted. "I'm not a guy who loves attention, anyway. It was nice for those guys to have all the exposure and I could just slide under the radar. I like that."
But then there was that other part of McDermott, the competitor, the silent killer who had already torched opposing defenses for the better part of the past three years.
He began to feel disrespected.
"In the back of my mind, it motivated me," McDermott admitted.
"Did people forget I'm still around?" he wondered. "I'm still here."
McDermott has wasted little time reminding the nation, that no, he did not go anywhere. He did not opt to bolt for the NBA after his junior season despite hearing from just about everyone that it was in his best interest.
"People were saying it was such a weak draft, that I would go in the first round," he said. "And that I had already accomplished everything I could at Creighton."
"I assumed he was going," teammate Grant Gibbs said. "I mean really, how much better could he play?"
But McDermott decided to stay, get his degree and help his dad – who also happens to be his coach – usher Creighton into a new conference. It's been a fairy tale thus far, with Creighton in first place in the new Big East and Doug the clear-cut frontrunner to win the Wooden Award.
This is the same guy who was basically the water boy to Harrison Barnes at Ames High in Iowa. The same guy who signed with Northern Iowa after his father, then the coach at Iowa State, did not believe he was good enough to play in the Big 12.
"We all make mistakes evaluating players," Greg McDermott joked. "I just happened to do it with my own son."
Wiggins has been inconsistent and passive at times. Parker appears to have hit that dreaded freshman wall. Randle has also had his issues and Gordon has put up modest numbers. Even sophomore Marcus Smart, after lighting up Memphis to the tune of 39 points on Nov. 19, has come down to earth.
But McDermott, sans one performance on Dec. 1 against George Washington in which he was admittedly frustrated, has been truly spectacular. Even last weekend, battling stomach issues, McDermott somehow managed to score 21 points and grab seven rebounds in a road setback to Providence.
"I think he's the best player in the country, I really do," Villanova coach Jay Wright said after his team was pounded Monday night. "I respect that our players respect him. I'm very impressed that our players like his game. I love his combination of skill and intelligence. It seems like he rarely takes a bad shot."
McDermott was supposed to struggle this season against the length and athleticism in the new league. That's what the skeptics said, that's what the NBA folks wanted to see: McDermott's effectiveness or lack thereof now that he's no longer stacking numbers against unathletic Missouri Valley Conference players.
Instead, he's averaging a career-high 24.8 points per game, is still shooting 50 percent from the field, has made 44 percent of his 3s, has hit 90 percent of his free throws and is now just 22 rebounds shy of 1,000 for his career.
McDermott will be the first to tell you that he didn't play a lick of defense when he first arrived in Omaha. He rarely made his teammates better. He was quiet and displayed few leadership qualities.
McDermott will never be known for his lock-down defense, but he's become solid on that end of the floor, has taken advantage of being double- and triple-teamed and finds open teammates. With the senior leader Gibbs out with a knee injury, McDermott has stepped up and become a vocal leader.
"He's really grown," Gibbs said of his teammate. "Every year you think it's tough for him to replicate it, but he continues to get better."
"His personality completely changes when he's on the court," added Wragge, another senior. "He's slightly uncomfortable off the court, quiet. But when he steps on the court, he changes – and things trigger him."
Wragge offers some advice to opponents: First of all, don't bother trying to get under his skin with trash-talking. It doesn't work. Instead, it motivates him. Also, opposing players shouldn't make too much noise prior to the game.
"I'm not sure why, but it really gets him going," Wragge laughs.
But McDermott is a throwback. He hasn't flashed the "Three Goggles" gesture after any of his 226 career trifectas. He doesn't scream or yell after one of his picturesque step-back jumpers, and he doesn't stare defenders down after making them look foolish with any one of his array of post moves.
He just plays the game. The right way.
McDermott is the clear favorite to win the Wooden Award – and no one is more deserving. He's been a model of consistency, not just this season – but over the course of his entire three-plus year career. He's the primary reason why Creighton was able to earn an invite to move from the Missouri Valley to the Big East with tradition-rich national programs such as Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette and St. John's.
"It's crazy," McDermott said of the ride. "I came in just wanting to contribute, get some minutes and be a role player. It's been surreal."
It hasn't always been easy, though. There was the concern and anxiety with coming into the program as the coach's kid, hearing the comments from teammates about his dad in the locker room and not knowing quite how to handle trying to be a quality teammate and also a son.
"The first year or so was tough at times," Doug McDermott said. "My dad and I were figuring it out."
But McDermott has learned and matured. Now he's the first one to get on his dad after a lengthy practice, and there are occasions when he'll take extra time to shoot after practice so he doesn't have to hear his teammates rip their coach.
"It's never been an issue," Gibbs said. "But a lot of it is because of the way Doug is. They are very player-coach on the floor and father-son off of it."
Greg McDermott knows the end is nearing, that there are just 11 regular-season contests remaining for him to be able to coach his kid. He'll find himself getting emotional at times, such as on the charter flight back from Philadelphia when his entire team was singing in the back of the bus celebrating the most impressive victory in school history.
"That's why Doug came back to school," Greg McDermott said. "That's something he'll never forget."
Doug McDermott now has 2,688 career points. He shot past Stephen Curry, Wayman Tisdale and David Robinson in the last week. If he continues on this pace, he'll pass Larry Bird in a few weeks.
"That's the one right there. After that, I'm going to stop shooting," McDermott joked.
But he'll keep drilling shots – as he's done over the past four seasons - and could become just the eighth player in NCAA history to crack the 3,000-point barrier.
"Some people may think he shoots a lot," Wragge said. "But we tell him to shoot more."
The freshmen are the freshmen. They will continue to get the bulk of the attention because their games have more sizzle, and they are projected to be taken high in the NBA draft. McDermott gets it, and he isn't jealous. Instead, he remains in awe of how far he's come – from that kid who was supposed to play for Ben Jacobson at Northern Iowa to the one who nearly everyone agrees has a firm grip on the Wooden Award.
"It's crazy. It doesn't feel real. It feels like a different person," he admits. "I try not to pay attention to it, but I'm on Twitter – and it's hard not to. Part of me wants to see it, try to enjoy it and embrace it, because I never thought this was possible. But I'm not going to change my game or anything because of it.
His coach still yells and screams at his son when he takes a play off on the defensive end, while his father beams about his son with pride.
"I have to be the envy of a lot of fathers," Greg McDermott said.
While his son has become the envy of just about everyone. Including the freshmen.