Published Saturday, January 18, 2014 at 12:01 am / Updated at 10:13 pm
BASKETBALL
Shatel: Jays' No. 3 in same league as the greats of Big Eight

Bear with me, Doug McDermott. This column is about you and your place in history.

First, I need to take care of some business.

I miss the Phog. I miss Johnny, walking out of the tunnel to his song, shaking that fist to the crowd.

I miss that old comic genius, Billy Tubbs, telling us he didn't sound like Jack Nicholson, Jack sounded like him.

I miss Derrick Chievous, the journalism student who didn't do interviews. I miss the roars at Hilton, the floor shaking at Ahearn. I miss Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons.

I miss the players and characters, who used to leap off the court and into the sports pages, the bright stars of winter. Games that were like showdowns at High Noon.

Man, I even miss the Antlers.

Ever since Johnny Orr, the Iowa State legend, passed away recently, I've been in a melancholy mood. I can't get those Big Eight basketball days — the best time of my career — out of my head.

But there's a pretty good show going on in front of my press row seat these days.

McDermott is climbing the ladder of college hoops this season. This senior encore that Doug came back for is turning into a treat for history lovers. Like myself.

He had 2,665 career points after Saturday's loss at Providence. That moved him ahead of Wayman Tisdale to 25th on college basketball's all-time scoring list.

He's four points away from Mr. David Robinson. Please salute as you go by, Doug.

Up ahead, the mile markers read Reggie Lewis and Hank Gathers. Larry Bird and Elvin Hayes. Danny Manning and Oscar Robertson.

For the generation who saw many of these icons play, this is a mind-blowing journey. It's not every year, or decade, you get to watch someone climb a ladder into the clouds.

How high can he go? McDermott is averaging 25 points per game. With 12 regular-season games left, and at least two postseason games (one in the Big East tournament and one likely in the NCAAs), McDermott projects to finish his career around No. 5 on the all-time scoring list.

That's what you call rare air.

The irony of this march through history is that Doug could wind up being the all-time leading scorer for two conferences.

Instead, he won't be credited for either.

McDermott played three seasons in the Missouri Valley. He finished with 2,216 points, good for eighth on the all-time list, which includes Bird and Robertson. With Bradley's Hersey Hawkins (3,008 points) at the top.

At his current rate, McDermott is projected to eclipse 3,000 points. So he woulda, coulda been the King of the Valley, which is no shabby honor.

The Big East is a different animal. The storied East Coast league counts records for conference games only. It lists former Syracuse star Lawrence Moten, with 1,405 points, as its all-time leading scorer.

Others in college basketball consider Troy Bell, of Boston College, to be the all-time Big East scorer, with 2,632 career points (counting all games). McDermott has already passed Bell.

But Doug's career won't transfer into the Big East books, nor should it. He didn't play against Big East competition until his senior year.

So, for legacy's sake, McDermott is a man without a conference. Does that matter?

Not really. Doug will be a college basketball Hall of Famer. An official with the Missouri Valley told me McDermott would likely get inducted into the Valley Hall of Fame one day, but it's no given.

It will be interesting where McDermott ends up in Big East lore. Will he be someone the league claims, next to Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin and all the rest? My guess is, if he wins the national player of the year awards, the Big East will act like a proud papa.

For certain, McDermott will go down as Creighton's greatest basketball player. If he gets to 3,000 points, he'll be almost 1,000 points ahead of Rodney Buford at No. 2. It's a record that won't be touched for a long, long time — if ever.

The kid can play, but for some, it's hard to wrap your head around the idea that McDermott belongs with Tisdale or Manning. Wayman changed the way the Big Eight played basketball. Manning won an NCAA title. Bird carried Indiana State to the NCAA final. Robertson dominated the Valley when it was a premier league.

The beauty of it is, McDermott's legacy is still being written. If No. 3 could take a Valley champ and win the Big East, that's a career headline. And that's the best part about him coming back for his senior year: the chance to elevate how he's remembered 20 years from now.

The compelling Big East games — however many there are — await. So does Madison Square Garden. And one more blank canvas in the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, McDermott climbs over legends we used to know and prompts some to marvel, and others to question, whether it was a lot of big scoring nights in the Valley.

He's the real deal. And, in the spirit of things, the best compliment I can ever pay Doug McDermott is this: He would have made the 1988 All-Big Eight team.

That group included Danny Manning, Mitch Richmond, Jeff Grayer, Harvey Grant and Derrick Chievous. Any of the five could have been player of the year. All five went in the top 16 picks of the 1988 NBA draft.

McDermott could have played with any of 'em, including the illustrious Manning. Doug's game reminds me a lot of Manning, who could run or post up. Doug has a better 3-point shot.

With apologies to Tyronn Lue and Kirk Hinrich and Kevin Durant of the Big 12, those teams in the Big Eight had the best collection of players I've ever covered. I'd put those 1980s Big Eight teams against any league, any time.

And I'd put Doug on any of those teams. I could see him leading the break alongside Barry Stevens or “Choo” Kennedy. Or getting a shot inside over any of Norm Stewart's bruisers. Big East teams can't defend McDermott's spot-up 3s. Manning or Grant wouldn't have had better luck.

Most of the audience appreciates what they're witnessing this year. But if anyone says McDermott couldn't have played with Manning or Tisdale, you have him come see me. I knew the Big Eight. Occasionally, I still live there.

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

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

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