Anthony Bellino (@Bellino_Anthony)
Last March, nobody would’ve blamed Doug McDermott for jetting to the NBA following a loss to Duke in the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament. The 6-foot-8 forward had already been named a postseason AP All-American twice and already scored over 2,000 points in his career.
Instead McDermott, Creighton’s all-everything forward jetted back to Omaha, Neb., and returned for his senior year.
McDermott said it really hit him following that loss to Duke, which came at the Wells Fargo Center; the same building where Creighton blew out fourth-ranked Villanova by a score of 96-68 on Monday night.
“The NBA’s great, making money playing basketball,” McDermott said of his return to school. “But I get just as much satisfaction playing with some of my best friends here just knowing that we’re having a lot of fun with it.”
McDermott talked to reporters about an emotional flight back to Creighton following the loss to Duke where it really became clear to him that he wanted to return for another go-around with the Blue Jays, who happen to be coached by his father, Greg McDermott. The icing on the cake though was when senior guard Grant Gibbs was granted a sixth-year of eligibility by the NCAA.
“I remember the flight pretty much basically in tears, I’m thinking that it could be all over,” McDermott said. “Seeing Grant Gibbs to the left of me, seeing him being all emotional too, knowing it was his last game. And here we are, we’re all back, we’re a brotherhood here and that played a huge factor in it.”
There is one major difference in the Creighton program this year and it doesn’t have to do with the roster or coaching staff. The Blue Jays made the leap from the Missouri Valley Conference to the new-look Big East. The conference change gave McDermott another reason to come back to school, knowing that he would regularly be playing against ranked teams such as Villanova at venues like the Wells Fargo Center.
“Playing in games like this were definitely in the back of my mind the whole time,” McDermott said. “We played the best basketball we’ve ever played, for us, we can’t dwell on this too much cause we still have a lot of work ahead of us.”
While the conference change was a big decision in staying at school McDermott remembers and respects the conference that he became a star and a player who was said by many to be one of the best players in the country while playing in. The Missouri Valley Conference may not have the depth of the Big East but it does boast teams like Wichita State, who played in last year’s Final Four and are now undefeated and ranked in the top-five in the country.
“We didn’t really talk about that, we just play our game; we feel like we came from a great conference already, you see Wichita State, a top-five team in the country,” McDermott said. “There’s a lot of good teams in that conference that really challenged us on a night-to-night basis and we think that’s a great conference and this is also a great conference and it’s definitely been a huge test for us early.”
The conference move hasn’t affected the Blue Jays’ performance as a whole either, their off to a 17-3 start including a 6-1 conference record. McDermott and the Blue Jays are confident that they can square off with any team in the country and pull out a win, which they proved on Monday night.
“We’re just sending a message to the country that we can play with anyone, a lot of people question our defense and that’s something that we’ve really worked on,” McDermott said. “I think we showed tonight that we can defend too, we can shoot the ball, we’ve got a lot of unselfish guys and we can also defend.”
While there was a lot of uncertainty about McDermott’s future over the past year but there’s one thing that he knows for sure, he doesn’t regret his decision to come back to Creighton for his senior year and he’s enjoying every second of it while it lasts.
“This has been the most fun I’ve ever had playing the game,” he said. “It’s just gone as good as it possibly could have and I hope that continues.”