When Creighton forward Doug McDermott scored in double digits in each of his first four games last fall, Lawlor's, an Omaha sporting-goods company began printing blue T-shirts whose white lettering read T3ACH M3 HOW TO DOUGI3—a nod to the Cali Swag District song and McDermott's name and jersey number. Bluejays fans snapped them up at $19.98 a pop. "I was kind of embarrassed when my mom bought a bunch for our family Christmas exchange," says McDermott, who neither owns the tee nor does the Dougie.
This is an article from the Feb. 13, 2012 issue
Should the shirt's sales ever flag, Lawlor's might tap into other Missouri Valley Conference markets to peddle a revised version: TEACH ME HOW TO DEFEND DOUGIE—a task far more demanding than learning a few hip-hop moves. Creighton opponents have been unable to choreograph schemes to undo Dougie, a hyperefficient 6'7", 220-pound sophomore who at week's end was pouring in 23.4 points a game (third in the nation) on 62.4% shooting, including 51.3% from beyond the arc. "I thought the guy single-handedly broke the spirit of my team," said Tulsa's Doug Wojcik after McDermott dropped 35 points in an 83--64 rout on Dec. 19.
"He has a real gift for taking the ball from the catch to the shot efficiently and quickly," says coach Mark Phelps of Drake, which surrendered 30 points and nine rebounds to McDermott in Creighton's 77--69 win on Jan. 25. "He can release it at any angle or level and still get it there. He can jump, he can get fouled, and right at the end he can get it up there with a really soft touch. And his basketball IQ is really high."
"He's a nightmare," says Bradley coach Geno Ford, whose team has surrendered 44 and 24 points to McDermott in two losses. "He is as smart a player as I've seen in a long time. He reminds me of Wally Szczerbiak. He has incredible hands, incredible timing, great feet. He's always a pass ahead. It's almost comical how many times he allows the defense to beat him to the spot so he can reverse-seal his man and catch it on the other side. If you're a high school basketball coach, you should be showing your kids Doug tapes. I don't doubt he'll play in the NBA, because he'll figure out a way. I just hope it's sooner rather than later."
There aren't many players who can inspire so much praise—and dread—while touching the ball as seldom as McDermott, who through Sunday had led the No. 17 Bluejays to a 21--3 record, including a conference-leading 11--2, and sparked talk of a potential Final Four run in the NCAA tournament. In the win at Drake, his 30 points came on 14 shots and nine free throws in 33 minutes. Creighton video coordinator Nathan Wieseler calculated the total time the ball was in McDermott's hands: 1:23, which equates to a point for every 2.8 seconds. According to tempo-free stats guru Ken Pomeroy, the only high-usage player (at least 28% of his team's possessions) with a higher offensive rating than McDermott's 125.7 is the country's leading scorer, Weber State junior point guard Damian Lillard (129.8).
The elegance of McDermott's minimalism isn't lost on the Bluejays' coach, Greg McDermott, who's also Doug's dad. "Doug doesn't dominate the ball and he doesn't need to," says Greg. "That's what makes his game special."
Normally easygoing, the younger McDermott gets miffed when anyone assumes that because he's a coach's son, he has been relentlessly tutored in all the little things that define his game: the mastery of the ball screen, the myriad post moves, the ability to shoot from any angle with either hand, the proprioceptive sense of where the defense lurks, the release that's so quick that the ball is often in the basket before the double team arrives. "A lot of that stuff comes natural to me," says McDermott, sitting on a carpeted wooden block in a Creighton practice gym. "It's the way I've always played: working hard early and getting easy baskets. It's what I do."
Put another way, he prepares himself for opportunities and makes the most of them when they arrive. That's how he evolved from redshirt candidate to T-shirt icon to player of the year contender in a matter of 15 months. Talk about efficiency.
Doug McDermott was born on Jan. 3, 1992, just as the starting lineup for North Dakota was being announced for its opening conference game against South Dakota State. Greg was a Fighting Sioux assistant at the time, and his son's birth and UND's 75--74 overtime victory (which Greg joined at halftime) were trumpeted in the Grand Forks Herald the next day: OH, BABY, WHAT A WIN!
Although it would be several years before Doug made basketball headlines again, he quickly grew to love his dad's sport. "He was never interested in cars or trains or Legos," says his mom, Theresa. "Ask anyone in our family—you never saw him without a ball in his hand."
As the family moved around the Midwest with Greg's coaching gigs, Doug tagged along to his dad's practices and games, serving as ball boy for his Northern Iowa teams and rebounding for Creighton's Kyle Korver, now a guard with the Bulls. Yet he didn't think he'd be in Korver's league. "I never had any huge dreams," says McDermott. "Once I got into middle school I wasn't the best player, so I never thought I'd be playing this level of college basketball. I thought I'd be just a normal player—maybe a D-II guy or one of my dad's managers."
His outlook started to change when Greg took the job at Iowa State before Doug entered ninth grade. Six feet tall and skinny, McDermott was relegated to the Ames High freshman and sophomore squads his first two seasons. By junior year he had shot up to 6'6" and joined a varsity that would become one of the most storied teams in Iowa history. Its undisputed star was 6'6" Harrison Barnes, now a North Carolina All-America candidate, the most sought-after recruit in the nation and the hardest worker Doug had ever seen. "Harrison went to school every morning at six, lifted and got shots up, something I really wasn't doing," says McDermott. "Seeing the success he had, it made me want to work hard and get better."
As a sophomore, McDermott was a member of a golf team that went to the state championships—where he came in dead last, as his older brother, Nick, Ames High's top golfer that year, likes to remind him—but he dropped that sport to focus on hoops. He spent extra time in the gym working on skills, and he accompanied Barnes to pickup games at Iowa State. "Harrison always was killing while I was the guy getting a few open shots a game," says McDermott. "Playing against those bigger, more athletic guys really helped me become a better player. I had to figure out ways to get my shots off."
McDermott began his junior season as a reserve, but when one of the starters had to sit out a month for academic reasons, McDermott seized the opportunity. "Doug was fantastic, unbelievable," says Ames High coach Vance Downs. But having promised the team that the other player would return to the starting lineup when he regained eligibility, Downs was in a bind. Without complaint, McDermott came off the bench for the last few weeks and became one of the best sixth men in Iowa history: For the season he averaged 14.0 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting 71.5% from the field and 47.9% from the three as the Little Cyclones completed the first of back-to-back undefeated 4A seasons.
Almost every gym the Little Cyclones played in was packed, the crush for autographs so thick the players needed security just to get to the locker room. Dozens of power-conference coaches came to see Barnes, yet none of them showed much interest in his fellow all-stater, who weighed 185 pounds, played mostly in the paint and didn't handle the ball that well. Even Greg, whose program at Iowa State was plagued by transfers, losing records and "a culture I had created but didn't like," he says, was reluctant to recruit Doug. "We had decided early that it probably wasn't a good fit for him," says Greg. "At the time he projected as a role player. I talked to a number of coaches who coached their son at that level. It's much easier if he's one of your best players or he's a walk-on that never plays. Anywhere in the middle can make it difficult. As his father, I wanted him to have a great experience."
After taking a few visits to mid-majors, including Creighton, where coach Dana Altman told McDermott he'd have to pay his own way the first season, he signed with Northern Iowa in November of his senior year. But when Creighton hired Greg to replace Altman that spring, Doug wanted a release from his letter of intent. "I thought, Wow, I have to play for my dad," he said. "That's a no-brainer."
Greg agreed, as did, graciously, Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson, Greg's successor in Cedar Falls and the godfather to Doug's 11-year-old sister, Sydney. "It happened so fast we didn't have time to talk ourselves out of it," says Greg. Theresa, who had spent years dividing her time between her son's and her husband's games, was thrilled. "The best thing is not the convenience, which is awesome," she says. "I always thought it would be so neat if Doug ran out of that tunnel with his dad walking behind him on the same team. Then when it happened, it was like, wow. This is the pinnacle."
Greg still wasn't convinced his son was D-I ready. He proposed redshirting. "I think he did that just to make me work harder," says McDermott, who responded, packing on 15 pounds in the weight room that summer. When the two veteran players at his position were limited by injuries before the 2010--11 season started, redshirting was no longer an option. As he had in high school, McDermott made the most of his chance: He started every game, led the team with 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds, and became the first freshman to earn first-team All-MVC honors in 59 years.
After the season, he worked out every day in Omaha with trainer Brian Hoffman, gaining weight and confidence so he could take advantage of another opportunity, this one with USA Basketball. He not only made the U-19 World championship team but also started all nine games and was the team's third-leading scorer and third-leading rebounder. "That helped my confidence a bunch because the coaches had so much confidence in me," he says. "This year I'm stronger physically and mentally."
Suddenly it's McDermott, not his old Ames High running mate, who is surging up the player of the year lists. "It's all well deserved," says Barnes. "He was extremely talented but just under the radar. Now that he's able to lead his team and have his own limelight, I think it's great."
The increased defensive attention hasn't rattled McDermott. "We've probably seen it all, from teams trying to double him, to trying to take somebody off one of our perimeter players to sit in his lap, to hitting him on the elbow and beating the crap out of him," says Creighton assistant Steve Merfeld. "None of that changes his facial expressions or who he is. Nobody has gotten in his head yet."
There was a chant from the Drake student section on Jan. 25 that briefly cracked his poise. As he stood at the free throw line to take the second of two shots with 3:53 left in a game that Creighton led by seven, the Drake students chanted, "You're a-dop-ted!"—one of the many family-themed taunts McDermott hears at every road game. He glanced into the stands behind the Creighton bench and caught the eye of Nick, who was doubled over laughing. With a smirk McDermott buried the foul shot. "I hear a lot of stuff," he says, "but playing for my dad has been fun, especially since we are both experiencing success at the same time. He treats me like any other player, which makes it a lot easier."
Likewise Doug, who changed Greg's cellphone ID from DAD to COACH MAC last season, treats his father as he would any coach. "If we have a rough practice and Coach Mac is getting after us, Doug will be the first to complain in the locker room," says sophomore guard Jahenns Manigat. McDermott's teammates don't give him grief about his bloodlines; instead they rib him about his growing celebrity. They call him and pretend to be reporters; they tell waiters to make sure he gets the All-American burger. "The truth is he is very humble and shy; he never talks about the national attention he's getting," says Manigat. "I have to gas him up sometimes."
Perhaps one reason McDermott resists basking in the unexpected spotlight is that being overlooked has been his biggest motivator. A mid-major was a good fit for him, he says, "because part of me just wanted to prove people wrong. I think I've done a good job of that." Naturally, it didn't take him much time at all.