The point where anyone should be amazed by anything Doug McDermott does on a basketball court should have long since passed.
Then comes a play like the one he had in Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage at the CenturyLink Center that had longtime teammate Jahenns Manigat proclaiming, “Are you kidding me?”
McDermott was driving down the left side of the lane when he was pushed by an opposing player in an attempt to keep him from scoring. As he was falling, McDermott managed to throw up an off-balance shot with his left hand that bounced a couple of times on the rim before dropping through.
“I was surprised that one even got to the rim,” McDermott said, a hint of amazement in his voice. “I knew I got fouled, so I just threw it up at the hoop.”
Of course, the two-time All-American made the free throw for a three-point play as he scored 25 of his team’s 46 points in the first 20-minute scrimmage. He then had 19 in the second 20-minute scrimmage before he, Manigat, Grant Gibbs and Austin Chatman were given the rest of the day off.
Asked about the play later, Creighton coach Greg McDermott shook his head and smiled.
“Somehow he is blessed with the ability that everything he throws up is soft,” Greg McDermott said. “I don’t think you can teach that. Either you have it or you don’t, and he definitely has it.
“His ball just dies when it hits the rim when he shoots it.”
One thing that pleased the coach was the life he saw from his team during the scrimmages, which closed a grueling fall-break week that saw the Bluejays squeeze 11 practices into a nine-day period.
“We did some really good things offensively,” the coach said. “Our defense has to get a little better, but that will come as we move forward, I would like to think.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction from a conditioning standpoint. Some of the new guys still need to get in a little better shape and understand what it takes to compete every play at this level. But I was very pleased with today, especially since it was the first time we did anything like this for an extended period.”
It also was the first time Creighton had referees work a scrimmage. The officials paid close attention to some of the points of emphasis that will be closely watched this season, especially hand checks and arm bars on the perimeter.
“We probably didn’t have as many hand checks as I thought might have been called,” McDermott said. “That was good to see because that’s something that we’ve really tried to emphasize in practice.”
The blue squad won all three scrimmages — 46-37 and 45-41 in the two 20-minute sessions and 27-15 in the final 12-minute session.
As good as Doug McDermott was for the blue team, Manigat was equally impressive while playing for the white squad. He shot the ball well from the perimeter while also showing some strong moves to the basket.
The 6-foot-1 guard has had some difficulty finishing around the hoop early in his career, but that wasn’t the case Saturday.
“I’m not trying to consciously drive the ball more, but I think I’m doing a better job of reading what the defense is giving me than I have in the past,” Manigat said. “I think in the past I would try to force the issue sometimes and that would lead to turnovers or some bad shots.
“I think I have a better understanding of where the openings are and I’m taking my time a little more.”
Like his coach, Manigat was encouraged by the effort the Bluejays displayed given the physically taxing week.
“Guys are tired, but I liked how guys were pushing through the fatigue and soreness so that we could have a really productive day,” he said. “And whenever we get a chance to scrimmage each other, it’s a lot more fun than doing drill after drill.
“Today was another way to compete against each other and see where we need to improve. Once we get back on the practice floor, we’ll have a better understanding of where we need to be offensively and defensively.”
The Bluejays will get the day off Sunday before returning to practice Monday knowing that there is less than three weeks before the Nov. 8 season-opening game against Alcorn State.
Defining roles will remain a priority in the coming weeks, Greg McDermott said.
“There is still some good competition at a lot of different spots,” he said. “The center position is probably the one that’s still the most wide open.”
Junior Will Artino, who had several nice finishes around the basket in the scrimmages, is the Bluejays’ most experienced big man after backing up Gregory Echenique the past two seasons. Redshirt sophomore Geoffrey Groselle’s development has been slowed somewhat by Achilles problems, but he’s managed to participate in almost every drill in practice.
He turned in a nice play Saturday when he stole an inbounds pass and went the length of the court for a layup. True freshman Zach Hanson also is in the mix.
“Will and Geoff have each had their moments,” McDermott said. “Zach’s had some good days. Obviously, it’s difficult to play all three of them, so we’re going to have to make some decisions there as time moves forward.”