Before embarking upon one of the best individual college careers in recent memory, Doug McDermott was known as a decent mid-major prospect.
He played on a record-setting high school team in Ames, Iowa—also the hometown of former Bulls guard and current Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg—alongside current Golden State Warriors small forward Harrison Barnes, then ranked as the top prep prospect in the nation and had committed to attend in-state Northern Iowa, before his father, Greg, went from coaching Iowa State to Creighton, in Omaha, Neb. A coach’s son, McDermott was expected to be a solid college contributor, but it quickly became apparent that his ceiling was much higher than observers had anticipated, partly in thanks to his father’s coaching acumen and tough love.
“Just being a coach’s kid my whole life, I got to be around the game a lot. I’ve seen just about it all, going to practices every day when I was younger, stuff maybe that he didn’t want me to see at times. But he developed me. I was kind of a late bloomer, so I didn’t really get recruited a whole lot. But when he got the job at Creighton, I was fortunate enough to join him and we had a great four years. I just got a lot better under him and his staff,” the younger McDermott explained. “Just having to be around him every day was hard. He pushed me. He pushed me really hard. There were definitely some tough days in practice. Since I was his kid, he had to be a lot harder on me, just kind of setting an example for the team and at first, that was hard to get used to. But by the time I was senior, I really got used to it.”
Greg McDermott alternated between being a proud father and seeing his son as the coach that he is when describing their four years together at Creighton.
“It was incredible and as Doug said, it was a challenge at first because for 18 years, my voice was his father’s voice and overnight, it became his coach’s voice. So I think there was a little bit of a period of adjustment for both of us, but as we look back at it, it’s been very rewarding, especially the senior season.
"None of us were sure that he was going to come back. He decided to come back and I said, ‘If you come back, two things have to happen: You have to get better and you have to enjoy it because there’s going to be a lot of pressure. A lot of people are going to try to pick apart your game, and you have to make sure you take a step back and enjoy it.’ And Doug fired back at me, ‘I’ll enjoy it if you enjoy it.’ So I think together we did, and we took time and smelled the roses a little bit more during his senior season,” he recounted. “Obviously we’re thrilled to sit in this building, and see the championships and really get a feel for the tradition. For Doug to be part of it, I think is really a dream come true for him and growing up in Eastern Iowa, the Bulls were always a team I followed as a child. So to have Doug a part of this organization is really special. But Doug, he’s a very talented offensive player and a very complete offensive player, and more than just a shooter, as he was able to show his senior year. Really, for the last couple of years, every defense was designed to stop him, yet he found ways to get loose and he’s a worker, and he recognizes those areas where he has to get better and I think he’ll come here ready to work.”
The turning point for the scorer was after his freshman year, when he played for USA Basketball over the summer and discovered that he indeed had the potential to play in the NBA one day, like his former teammate Barnes.
“I got invited to play on the [USA Basketball under-19] team and I played well there, and that just helped me going on to my sophomore year, my junior year,” recalled McDermott, who played on the same AAU team that Bulls veteran floor general Kirk Hinrich once did and is friendly with former Bulls sharpshooter Kyle Korver, a fellow Creighton product. “I’d say that that’s when I started to realize that this dream would come true.”
Concurred his father: “I think the jump he made between his freshman and sophomore year, certainly USA Basketball that summer, gave him some confidence. But he put on 15 or 20 pounds of muscle during that period of time and he was able finish through contact, and I think at that time, his range was extended and he was able to shoot it easier from deep. And then from that point on, he just kept improving and adding something to his game every year. His intermediate game just got much better the last two years and obviously he’s always been gifted on the block, to be able to score with both hands, over both shoulders.”
Competing against Barnes in high school also helped McDermott, as practice battles against the third-year NBA player gave him a taste of the intensity needed to eventually make it to basketball’s highest level.
“I learned so much from him. Just his work ethic alone got me a lot better because I just followed his lead when I was younger. We texted back and forth after the draft. He’s really excited for me,” McDermott said of Barnes. “It should be cool to play against him a couple times a year or however many it is. But just his work ethic—we had so many competitive practices and it made me a much better player.”