OMAHA, Neb. — It’s been a season of no regrets for Creighton’s Doug McDermott.
He’s answered naysayers who predicted he wouldn’t be tough enough for the Big East. The fact is, he’s never been better.
The two-time first-team All-American has added to his offensive repertoire and is the nation’s leading scorer. He is considered the front-runner for the Wooden Award as college basketball’s best player and has become one of the top 10 scorers in history while keeping the 13th-ranked Bluejays (23-6, 13-4) in the Big East race and on track for their highest NCAA tournament seed.
McDermott said he’s never second-guessed his decision to hold off on the NBA so he could play his senior season for his father-coach, Greg McDermott.
“When college is over, I’ll definitely realize how special it was,” Doug said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I’m just living in the moment right now. If I were the national player of the year, that would be really cool, something that has never been in my wildest dreams. Everything is a bonus from here on out.”
McDermott was the premier player in the Missouri Valley Conference as a sophomore and junior. With nothing left to prove in the Valley, he said he probably would have declared for the draft last year if Creighton hadn’t accepted an invitation to join the reconstituted Big East.
He was projected to be a middle- to late first-round pick if he had turned pro, and his decision to stay in school was a calculated risk. It’s turned out he’s probably enhanced his draft stock. His scoring averages have improved from 22.9 points a game as a sophomore and 23.2 as a junior to 25.9 this season.
“It’s really incredible that someone who has achieved at the level he’s achieved at has been able to continue to add things to his game,” Greg McDermott said. “That’s difficult to do when you’re on top. Sometimes the subtle changes don’t really show up in your game. In Doug’s case, he’s made noticeable improvements to his game each year.”
McDermott has long complemented his 46-percent career 3-point shooting with crafty moves in the post. This season he has added to his mid-range game with a reliable fade-away jumper.
What the 6-foot-8, 225-pound McDermott lacks in athleticism he has made up for with his understanding of the game.
“He’s as complete a player — and I do not use that term loosely — with size as I’ve ever seen,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “There’s nothing he can’t do. He can take you off the dribble. He guards. He rebounds. He moves without the ball. He seals. He’s the best post player that we’ve played against and he’s the best perimeter player.”
Wright formed his opinion from watching McDermott hold his own against NBA players at a USA Basketball national team camp in Las Vegas last summer. Wright also watched as McDermott scored 23 and 39 points in Villanova’s two losses to Creighton.
McDermott said his experience in Vegas proved to him that he would be ready for the NBA when the time comes. But he said he’s never doubted his decision to play one more season in college.
Greg and Doug McDermott went to Creighton as a package deal in 2010. Greg left an Iowa State program in decline for the familiarity of the Missouri Valley, where he had played and coached at Northern Iowa. Doug, who wasn’t even a starter at Ames (Iowa) High until his junior year, originally had signed to play at Northern Iowa. Ben Jacobson, the coach at UNI and a McDermott family friend, released Doug from his letter of intent so he could join Greg in Omaha.
McDermott has scored 30 or more points nine times this season and has hit three game-winning shots. He went into Tuesday’s game at Georgetown having scored 25 or more points in eight straight games. He had 22 in the 75-63 loss to the Hoyas.
“It’s just been fun to do this together and to really enjoy this last season knowing that the clock’s ticking,” Greg said. “Neither of us knew if we were going to have this year. The fact we’ve been able to do this and been able to have some success in the Big East and have some really signature wins for our program, and fill the building, you couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Back-to-back road losses mean the Bluejays can do no better than tie sixth-ranked Villanova for the regular-season title. Doug McDermott will play his final home game Sunday against Providence, and then it will be off to New York for the Big East tournament.
He has passed Danny Manning for No. 9 on the all-time scoring list and is four points behind Oscar Robertson. McDermott brushes off discussion about where he’ll finish. He said it’s all about where the team finishes. The Bluejays have never been higher than a No. 6 NCAA seed or advanced past the round of 32.
“We want to go further than last year. That’s my main goal,” Doug said. “So I think anything less than that would be, in my mind, disappointing. I just want to carry this team as far as we can go.”