He's passed Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson and has his sights on Pistol Pete. Creighton senior forward Doug McDermott is the greatest college scorer of this millennium, and each one of his baskets tells a story
MORE THAN 3,000 POINTS NOW, and in how many ways? McBuckets' bucket list is long and diversified. They've come on threes and post moves, on banked-in leaners and one-legged fadeaways, on hard curls and slipped screens. They've been 85.5% righthanded, 12.8% lefty, and just 1.7% of them have been dunks. They've come in Peoria, Springfield and Wichita for three seasons, and in Philly, Indy and New York City during this profile-boosting year in the Big East.
Almost all of Doug McDermott's points—including the career-high 45 he dropped against Providence last Saturday—have been scored in a state of posthypnotic calm. At the CenturyLink Center he enters this state before warmups, when the 6'8" senior forward retreats to an empty hockey locker room with Jack Stark. The Omaha-based psychologist worked with Nebraska's football dynasty in the 1990s, helps NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and has become attached to the basketball program at Creighton, a Jesuit school, partly because he believes he's doing his Catholic duty but mostly because he loves being around Doug and his father, Greg, the coach of the Bluejays.
Stark has McDermott lie on a training table and talks him into a deep-relaxation phase. Stark counts backward from five to one. McDermott arrives at a beach. There, he removes the clutter from his mind—the anxiety of game day, the pressure of carrying an offense for a top 10 team, the desire to not let anyone down—and puts it in a box, on a raft, and pushes it into the blue water. The tide carries it away.
Hypnosis opens the mind to suggestion, so Stark begins refilling McDermott's with positive past experiences, reminders of times when the points came easy. Stark guides him through that day's game. He covers how McDermott will deal with defenses and make winning plays. McDermott is then brought back to full consciousness with these visuals in his head. This has been part of his pregame routine since Dec. 22, 2010, when he first tried it to help with his pregame focus. McDermott is too superstitious to switch away from something that worked.
Before McBuckets, this millennium's list of the best four-year scorers consisted of BYU's Jimmer Fredette, North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough and Duke's J.J. Redick. McDermott has eclipsed all three of them in career points. The season he's having in the Big East, using 33.0% of Creighton's possessions at 1.23-points-per, trumps any usage-and-efficiency lines posted by any big-time scorer of the last decade (chart, p. 35). McDermott is the centerpiece of the most efficient offense since Wake Forest's Chris Paul--led 2004--05 team, at an adjusted 1.254 points per possession, according to kenpom.com. He's the only star to have been deemed by an opposing coach (in this case, Villanova's Jay Wright) to be the best shooter and best post player in the game.
Through Sunday only six players remained ahead of McDermott on the Division I career scoring list. At No. 1 and untouchable is another coach's son, Pete Maravich, who amassed 3,667 points in three seasons at LSU from 1967 to '70, before the three-point line existed. If Creighton were to stay alive into the Big East tournament finals and then advance to the national title game, McDermott could rise as high as No. 2 (chart, above). A proper appreciation of McDermott's career requires a method borrowed from hypnosis: counting backward.
THE FIRST time McDermott passed Danny Manning, who led Kansas to the 1988 NCAA title and scored 2,951 points for the Jayhawks, was in 2007, after the 6 a.m. practice that opened McDermott's junior season at Ames (Iowa) High. Manning was an assistant coach at KU, and like all the high-major recruiters in the Ames gym that day, he was hunting Harrison Barnes, the nation's No. 1 prospect and McDermott's infinitely more famous teammate. McDermott remembers being wowed by the sight of Manning and Jayhawks coach Bill Self in his high school parking lot, and he was amused to see them getting into a minivan; the Barnes-fueled demand for local rental cars must have limited their options. McDermott wasn't insulted that the only question Self asked him was, "Where's a good place to get some breakfast?"
Manning says that McDermott's skill set was evident during those recruiting trips to Ames. But none of Barnes's suitors—not Kansas, North Carolina, Florida or Duke—pursued McDermott. He was a skinny, 6'7" center who began his junior season on the bench and whose dad didn't even view him as a good fit for Iowa State, where Greg was coaching at the time. "My question would have been, What position does he play [for Kansas]?" says Manning, who in his current job at Tulsa has watched McDermott drop 16 and 33 points in his games against the Golden Hurricanes. "I don't even know what position he is now. He just gets buckets from everywhere."
The second time McDermott passed Danny Manning was on March 4, in the second half of a 75--63 loss at Georgetown. The bucket, a right-handed layup through two defenders, brought McDermott's points total to 2,952, and Manning was fine with being bumped down to No. 10 alltime. "I love college basketball," Manning says. "As a coach, when I watch a game, I mostly focus on actions teams are running or out-of-bounds plays ... but when Doug's on? I just love watching him play."
"YOU'RE NO Larry Bird," Greg McDermott made a point of telling his son recently, and Doug knew his place—Larry was Larry, Doug is mortal, and Bird needed just three seasons to score his 2,850 points at Indiana State. Still: Hitting a second-half three against Villanova on Feb. 16 to pass Larry Legend for 13th on the NCAA's alltime scoring list was nothing short of surreal. Ten Februaries earlier, when he was a seventh-grader, McDermott and his paternal grandfather, Earl, tagged along on a road trip with Greg's Northern Iowa team to Indiana State to see Bird's number 33 retired. And a frequent part of McDermott's pregame routine is viewing the same YouTube montage of Bird HD highlights. "I love watching Bird," says McDermott, who prefers vintage inspiration to present-day. "He just plays a different way."
After Doug naps and showers and watches his Bird clip on home-game days, his roommate, Mike Vandevoort, a former Creighton manager and current intern at First National Bank in Omaha, likes to ask him, "How's tonight lookin'?"
"Doug always gives a very meager prediction, like, 'Aww, probably 18 and seven,'" Vandevoort says. "He's too humble to ever say 40."
Before this Villanova game McDermott said, "22 and 11." Vandevoort took it as a promising sign.
McDermott did score 22—in the first half. Five different Villanova players tried to guard him, and on one lob post entry in the second half, the Wildcats swarmed him with five players at once, so he kicked the ball out to 6'7" senior sharpshooter Ethan Wragge, who hit a three. When McDermott was pulled from a 101--80 rout with 1:43 left, he had 39 points, tying his season high. Senior guard Grant Gibbs, a fellow connoisseur of old Celtics highlights who's also known for his dry wit, leaned close to McDermott's right ear and informed him, "When they announced you passed Bird, a small part of me died inside."
In the locker room afterward, Creighton players took their places on folding chairs arranged in a forward-facing semicircle. They had just moved back into a tie for first place in the Big East. They goaded junior guard Devin Brooks, who's from Harlem, into dancing to a few bars of Rich Homie Quan's "Some Type of Way," then cut the music so Greg could speak. He and Doug have determined that the father-coaching-son arrangement can work only if family time and basketball time are separate. Thus their basketball conversations play out in front of the team.
"Doug," Greg said, "unbelievable game."
McDermott met his father's proud eyes and nodded, then nodded once to his teammates, who'd broken into applause. That was it. Greg moved on to praising a trio of reserves and then urged everyone to celebrate responsibly. Three words, after 39 points, were enough.
NEITHER OF the McDermotts had been in Madison Square Garden before the team's Feb. 9 visit to the sometime home of St. John's. In the freight-elevator ride up to the court for a Sunday-morning shootaround, one of the coaches mentioned that the Beatles had used the same lift in the 1960s. Before McDermott took a seat in a courtside chair to change into his game shoes—white-and-blue Nike Hyperdunk 2013s—he looked up in awe at the Knicks' row of banners.
"Carbondale sounds pretty good right now," he said sarcastically, referring to the Bluejays' annual Southern Illinois stop when they were in the Missouri Valley Conference. Creighton's invitation to join the new Big East came with upgrades: from small-town Holiday Inns to Manhattan's Marriott in Midtown, from regional cable to prime-time slots on Fox Sports 1. If not for the lure of these new experiences, McDermott says he would have entered the NBA draft following his junior season.
It was the day after Oklahoma State sophomore guard Marcus Smart had shoved a Texas Tech fan, and that altercation was a prime topic of discussion in the Creighton camp. Smart and McDermott would most likely have been first-round picks in 2013, and they had been the only two collegians invited to train with the pros at the Team USA minicamp in Las Vegas last July. They were now on different trajectories. McDermott was the runaway favorite for the Wooden and Naismith awards, his draft stock had jumped to the edge of the lottery, and he had no regrets about coming back for his senior year. Smart's season had become a nightmare. In Greg's pregame speech that night, he told the Bluejays to stay composed ("Body language screams") and cherish the moment. "You're playing in Madison Square Garden with a bunch of your closest friends," he said. "Let's enjoy the s--- out of it."
Creighton lost to the Johnnies, who did an admirable job of holding McDermott bucketless over the final eight minutes, but he'd had worse weeks. The Bluejays had a chance run-in with U2's Bono at New Jersey's Teterboro Airport before taking their charter flight back to Omaha on Sunday, and many of them took in Justin Timberlake's show in their home arena the next night. The following Thursday in Indianapolis, McDermott hit the game-clinching three, on a play drawn up by Greg, against Butler in Hinkle Fieldhouse, a historic venue McDermott liked even more than the Garden. "This year," he says, "it feels like everything is on another level."
THIS WAS on another level: McDermott's first game-winning shot in Omaha, before a sellout crowd of 17,515 against St. John's on Jan. 28. It was a three with 2.5 seconds left, after which McDermott and the Bluejay who set the screen that freed him, Isaiah Zierden, were sent tumbling to the floor by Red Storm center Chris Obekpa.
The rest of the McDermott clan was there to witness it. Greg's wife, Theresa; their daughter, Sydney, 13, who's already 5'9" in eighth grade; and Nick, 24, who's 6 feet and once complained to Greg that he got "f----- genetically." After graduating from Northern Iowa, Nick took a job in Omaha so the family could be together this season; he lives in a loft close to Creighton's arena and six blocks from a billboard of his younger brother. Nick and Theresa laugh when they contrast the current version of McDermott with the slow-to-grow-into-his-body child they remember. "He was the most clumsy kid anybody's met in their whole life, always tripping over himself," Nick says. Adds Theresa, "He fell so much, I started making a game of it. I'd tell him, 'That was a great fall, Doug. You didn't cry on that one,' or 'You didn't even use your hands.'"
As for McDermott's spill following this game-winner: He used his left hand just a little, but slid backward gracefully and raised his arms to signal a three, which put his point total at 39. It was a great fall.
EVERY SHOT seemed to fall on Jan. 20, when Creighton hit a Big East record 21 of 35 three-pointers in a 96--68 rout of Villanova. Wragge made nine of them, and McDermott had five, helping him pass Navy legend David Robinson for 23rd on the alltime scoring list. It was the Bluejays' signature offensive performance, against a top 10 team, but what they may remember most is the flight home from Philly. They all gathered in the rear of one of their two charter planes to play Heads Up!, a game similar to charades that senior guard Jahenns Manigat had on his iPhone. A category is chosen—song, movie, sports legend, etc.—and someone holds the phone up against their forehead and tries to guess what's on the digital flashcard based on the group's clues. None of the players put on headphones or pulled away to do schoolwork. Even McDermott, who was once an introvert in big groups—Manigat remembers the team's gathering to watch Game 7 of the NBA Finals in the summer of 2010, when they both arrived as freshmen, and McDermott was the shy kid who barely spoke—took turns as the guesser.
Greg was seated near the front of the plane with his 80-year-old father, Earl, who grew up on a farm in Cascade, Iowa, and never played organized basketball. They listened to the whole team giddily singing songs—"like schoolgirls," Greg says—for the purpose of Heads Up! clues. Greg figured that scenes like that don't happen on NBA charters. "It's moments like this," he said to Earl, "that Doug came back for."
WHEN STARK can't make a road trip, such as the one to Missouri State on Jan. 11, 2013, McDermott still gets hypnotized. It just happens over the phone. He tries to find a quiet place where he won't be bothered, and this proved difficult in JQH Arena. McDermott had to lock himself in an arena bathroom, put his iPhone earbuds in and get Stark on the line. "I turned the light off and lay against the door to make sure no one would come in, because I wanted to stay focused," McDermott says. "And it got really awkward. I could hear people saying, 'What is going on in there?' 'I can't get the door open!' and I think someone tried to get security while I was lying there in the dark, listening to [Stark]."
Their abbreviated session was enough. In the second half McDermott scored 28 points on 10 of 11 shooting while Missouri State scored 25 as a team. He finished with 39 points, including a stretch of 10 straight, and hit a face-up-while-barely-jumping three that even he admits was ridiculous: "That's when I knew I was feeling it."
That month Greg made a recruiting trip to Butler Community College in Kansas and was approached by a local high school coach whose son played for him. "You're the envy of every father in the country that coaches," he told Greg. On the flight back to Omaha, Greg told Creighton assistant Steve Lutz that he'd never thought of it that way. "But I guess I am," Greg says. "I wish every dad could experience what I've been able to experience with Doug, to watch him grow as a player and not have to sit him down every day and explain to him how to humbly handle success."
IT'S POSSIBLE that McDermott has scored the majority of his points with meat loaf in his system. The night before their Jan. 7, 2012, game at Bradley, the Bluejays ate at a Granite City Food & Brewery; McDermott ordered the GC meat loaf with bourbon onion sauce and garlic mashed potatoes, then went out and scored a career-high 44 points against the Braves.
That made McDermott superstitious about meat loaf. He and his roommates had to go to Omaha's Granite City before every home game, and the team ate at St. Louis's Granite City before every game of Arch Madness. "At some point I got sick of meat loaf," he says, "but I had to stick with it."
MANIGAT CAN recall years-old game sequences as if they happened yesterday, and Dec. 19, 2011, at Tulsa is one of his favorites. Not because McDermott scored 35 with a bad cold or because Golden Hurricanes coach Doug Wojcik said, "The guy single-handedly destroyed the spirit of my team," but because some of McDermott's buckets were downright goofy. For one he hit a near-blind, NBA-range, turnaround three with the shot clock expiring. On another he was outnumbered 4 to 1 on an offensive rebound attempt but used his sixth sense for anticipating the path of the ball. "It didn't even look like Doug was really going after it, but somehow it ended up in his hands, and he flipped it up and in," Manigat says. "I was just like, How is he in the right spot at the right time, every single time?"
Gibbs once downloaded a fan-created Creighton roster for use in the NBA2K video game on XBox 360 to see how accurately he and his teammates' attributes had been assigned. On his first play with the 2K Jays, the ball came loose, bounced around in traffic ... and landed in the hands of McDermott, who laid it up and in. "I recorded it on my phone and sent it to everyone, because it was nuts," Gibbs says. It was virtual reality.
MCDERMOTT ONLY saw Jimmer Fredette play in person once, when BYU beat Creighton in Omaha on Dec. 1, 2010. Fredette, a senior who came into the game averaging 24.8 points, was on his way to emerging as college hoops' most electrifying scorer, while McDermott—a Jimmer fan since watching him light up Florida in the 2010 NCAA tournament—was a freshman averaging 14.3 points. On that day McDermott scored before Jimmer did and put up 20 points to Jimmer's 13, but in typical Doug fashion, he didn't let it get to his head. He speculated that Jimmer might not have been feeling well and wasn't his typical, bucket-hunting self. "After the game I shook his hand and was still in awe," McDermott says. "I was like, 'It's Jimmer. I love this dude.'"
The postscript: On Jan. 4, 2014, at Seton Hall, McDermott passed Fredette (2,599) for 33rd place on the scoring list. The McBuckets Show is different from the Jimmer Show, which featured Fredette firing shots off the dribble, in isolation. McDermott does the bulk of his work before he touches the ball. He's a subtler, quieter form of superstar.
26 ... to 16 ... to 0
MCDERMOTT DEBUTED in the Global Sports Hy-Vee Challenge, which Creighton hosted on Nov. 12 and 14, 2010. His first opponent, Alabama State, had an assistant coach, Steve Rogers, who's tied for 50th on the alltime NCAA scoring list. Rogers couldn't help but laugh at the lone scouting video he had obtained from a Bluejays exhibition; the team manager filming it kept shouting, "Nice shot, Dougie!" as if he were cheering on a little kid.
McDermott can't help but laugh at his 18-year-old self, with shaggy hair and all-white Nikes, when he sees footage from those games. He scored 16 in a win over Alabama State, his first bucket coming on a pick-and-pop three, and 10 in a victory against Northern Arizona, getting his opening points when the Lumberjacks tried to run him off the three-point line. McDermott responded by rapidly pump-faking, driving, losing the ball in traffic, somehow regaining it, possibly traveling, knocking over a defender without being whistled for a charge and then jabbing the ball up onto the rim, and in. "Sloppy," he says. "I was in a huge hurry, trying to do too much."
It was one of just 11 games McDermott played before experimenting with hypnosis, deep relaxation and visualization. With that clarity came understanding, that the points would come more easily if he waited to see what the defense was taking away and then took something else. And in four seasons he's added so many dimensions to his offense that opposing game plans can't possibly take everything away. McDermott passed the 3,000-point mark on a three, but he didn't get to that milestone on the purity of his shot alone. He got there by expanding his options and unburdening his mind.
He's the only star to have been deemed by an opposing coach to be the best shooter and best post player in the game.
BY THE NUMBERS
Points per game, which leads the nation
Straight seasons as a Naismith semifinalist
Game-winning shots by McDermott this season
Consecutive games started by McDermott
Consecutive games with 10 or more points
Straight games with 25 or more points
Big East player of the week awards, a league record
Players with three seasons of 725 or more points (Stephen Curry) since 1997--98
Rebounds, which ranks third on Creighton's career list
Players in NCAA history to score at least 2,800 points and shoot 50% from the field
Big East record for points in a conference season, held by McDermott
Player from a power conference who has led the country in scoring and played in the NCAA tournament (Glenn Robinson, Purdue, in 1993--94)
Career shooting percentage
McDermott could finish as high as No. 2 among the NCAA's alltime scorers
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Photograph by AL TIELEMANS/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
PUTTING ON A CLINIC In two games against Villanova, McDermott had 62 points on just 30 shots.
MICHAEL SPOMER/CAL SPORT MEDIA
PURE FOCUS Pregame hypnosis sessions help McDermott to get in the scoring zone.
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED