Published Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 8:48 pm / Updated at 8:58 pm
Shatel: A brand new start for Jays' McDermott in Big East

A year ago, they hung out in ports like Peoria and Springfield. This year, Doug McDermott and Grant Gibbs found themselves holed up in Manhattan.

New York.

They were in town to do the Big East media day, and there was time to kill. So the Creighton hoops stars do what most accidental tourists do in the Big Apple. They went out for a walk.

“We hit Times Square and then we took the subway to Brooklyn and looked around,” McDermott said.

See anything unusual?

“There are some interesting cats out there, for sure,” McDermott said. “Little different than Omaha.”

This is going to be different. But this was going to be different either way. McDermott could have been playing in Brooklyn this year had he chosen the NBA route. Heck, had the Nets or Knicks taken him, he could have been living next door to some of those interesting cats.

But he jumped on the private jet with the rest of the CU entourage and made it back to the Big O, and the comfort of his campus and home. This is how McDermott will spend this senior year.

Call it Doug's Excellent Adventure.

Call it the beginning of McDermott's second college career.

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That's what this feels like, a new beginning for No. 3. A fresh reset.

He's going from a place where everybody knew everything about him, his tendencies, his habits, the spot where he liked to make that spin move on the baseline. And he's going to a place where they don't know anything about him. And don't care.

He's going from a Missouri Valley Conference, a place where he has been there, done that twice, to a Big East Conference where he has done absolutely nothing.

He's going from a league that his team virtually owned, where CU wore the target. He goes to a league where he and his teammates will be able to play with a chip on their shoulder, with everything to prove to the old guard Big East.

It's a blast of fresh air that not many fourth-year seniors are fortunate to breathe.

McDermott was a tweener, a 6-foot-8 perimeter-scoring star projected to go in the late first or early second round of last season's NBA draft. He's a rarity, a kid who chose to come back to school to enjoy the experience and build on his NBA profile.

This is his tweener season, one that most accomplished seniors spend working on their game against competition that they've already conquered. But this kind of tweener season is unheard of.

McDermott came back and moved up a level, up to a league where NBA talent plays and NBA scouts live.

It's exactly one of the reasons he came back to Creighton.

“If I was coming back to the Valley, I don't know if my decision would have been the same,” McDermott said. “This is kind of like the unknown. That's what makes it exciting.

A second college career? “I'm starting to look at it like that,” he said. “I've done some good things in the past, and now this is like a new chapter. I feel like I have a lot to prove.”

McDermott has proven his game works, against the likes of Wisconsin, Cal, Alabama and Cincinnati and certainly Wichita State, which plays more like a major than a mid.

But can he do it every night? Can he do it when very well-paid Big East coaches spend time devising physical defenses to take him out of his comfort zone? Can he do it with the bumps and bruises of other NBA-type bodies knocking him into the cheap seats?

This is what McDermott would have done in the NBA, except he likely wouldn't have started this year or played the inside role he'll need to play and play well for the Jays this year.

Let's be honest. This is what every star player in the Valley or any other mid-major league has sat awake at night wondering. Could he make it in a big league? Would he belong?

For a kid like Doug, who loves college hoops and enjoys his place in the game, this is like a senior year gift. He'll get to find out.

“I haven't really seen a difference in him,” Gibbs said. “But I think he's excited to play the new teams. It will be interesting to see how the other teams play him. I think it will be a lot of fun for him, to see what he can do on a more national stage.”

McDermott has a level head, and that will serve him well. It's one thing to be player of the year in a mid-major league, quite another to be preseason player of the year in the Big East. Without playing a game, he's been transformed to an entire new level, a rare air sort of thing.

It may have actually hit him last week, not just being surrounded by New York and Fox and ESPN types. That moment may have occurred as he was being interviewed by a New York TV guy, who told him he could be the first Big East player to be an All-American three straight seasons since Patrick Ewing.

Put that on your subway and ride it.

“It's surreal, let's be honest,” McDermott said. “I was actually just reading that on the (media) sheets they had there. I didn't show any emotion when he said it, because I know how hard it's going to be to do that. I'm just going to play my game and I think everything will take care of itself.”

Then there's this angle: the New York Daily News wrote that the new Big East has a lot riding on this first season. That, if the league didn't get at least five teams in the NCAA tourney, the new league would be seen as a disappointment, if not a bust. And the move by the seven Big East schools to add three newbies would be second-guessed heavily.

Welcome to New York, Doug. Welcome to the Big East. They're all counting on you and the Jays to not embarrass them.

“I think the pressure we feel is to make a good first impression,” CU coach Greg McDermott said. “We have one chance to make a good first impression on the national stage, and that's going to dictate how we're going to recruit the next few years.”

No pressure at all.

These expectations, these new media markets, present both risks and rewards in Doug's Excellent Adventure.

The rewards: If he can post his Valley numbers on a nightly basis in the Big East, maybe lead the league in scoring or make any statistical impact, his legend will explode. He'll go from the kid most people in Omaha and St. Louis and Peoria recognize, to having his face splashed on the side of a building in Times Square.

And, yes, there's that NBA stock. McDermott got positive marks from NBA people last July for his performance at the USA Basketball Men's National Team Mini-Camp in Las Vegas, where he and Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart got to hang with 30 of the NBA's top young players. But if Doug can do his thing in the Big East, are we talking about a top 15 or top 20 guy? Yes.

The risks: OK, what if — IF — he doesn't average 22.9 or 23.2 points, come close to 800 points, shoot at least 54.8 percent? What if the Jays, picked third in the Big East, get roughed up a little bit?

McDermott had the perfect walk-off last season — all of the honors plus two Valley titles. If he's anything less against Big East competition, will it soil the memory? No. But it will be on the final résumé.

Doug's parents took out an insurance policy (one Greg McDermott wouldn't discuss) on his senior year. It doesn't cover things like perception or legacy, things that the national or Big East media might care about more than the player.

“I really don't care about that,” Doug said. “And I plan on it being better than last year.”

In a very large way, he's already won, before he's played a game. He gets to play in the Garden twice (St. John's and Big East tournament) and Hinkle Fieldhouse, home of “Hoosiers.” He'll get to live out his dreams, most every night.

And it's probably a good point to remember that, in those dreams, his shots usually go in.

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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