Midway through an unsuccessful four-year tenure coaching Iowa State, Greg McDermott made the unusual decision he wasn't going to recruit his son to help spark a turnaround.
McDermott told Doug, then playing alongside future North Carolina star Harrison Barnes at Ames High School, that he should find somewhere else to play in college unless he'd be interested in coming to Iowa State as a walk-on. The elder McDermott wasn't sure how much longer he'd remain at Iowa State, nor was he confident a 6-foot-7 tweener forward like Doug could make an impact against taller, stronger Big 12 frontlines.
"That was a big part of it," McDermott conceded. "I think when you're coaching your son, if you're in a situation where he's not one of your two or three best players, that can cause problems possibly. And to be honest, I wasn't pleased myself at that point in my career at Iowa State with the culture of our program and I thought maybe my son would be better somewhere else."
McDermott can take solace that he wasn't the only prominent coach who didn't envision Doug developing into the nation's fifth-leading scorer and an All-American candidate by his sophomore year. Coaches from dozens of elite programs watched the younger McDermott play while recruiting Barnes, yet none offered the future Creighton star a scholarship, leaving him to choose between the Bluejays and fellow mid-majors Northern Iowa and Central Florida.
Whereas many players in McDermott's position might use the snubs as motivation to show those who doubted him how wrong they were, the Creighton sophomore insists that isn't what drives him. He spent hours every week this summer adding muscle, improving his stamina and perfecting his jump shot because he knew that's what it would take to go from the Missouri Valley Conference's top freshman to one of the nation's best scorers.
"In some ways, I feel like I'm proving people wrong, but that's not my focus," McDermott said. "A lot of the attention in high school went to Harrison, as it should have. He's a really good player and it was a pleasure playing with him. I was under the radar a little bit, but I'm happy where I am right now and I couldn't be more thankful."
It was difficult to envision McDermott blossoming into one of college basketball's most prolific scorers when he arrived at Ames High School as a scrawny 6-foot freshman more than five years ago. Ames coach Vance Downs recalls chuckling after 6-foot-8 Greg McDermott suggested Doug might one day grow to be as tall as his father.
"Greg said Doug was exactly like Greg was at that age, maybe a little bigger than him," Downs recalled. "I just kind of thought it was dad talk. Yeah, OK, that sounds great. Doug was just tiny, but he kept growing and growing."
The younger McDermott's emergence as a college-level prospect began at the start of his junior year when he replaced an injured Ames teammate in the starting lineup and quickly developed into the team's second option behind Barnes. Although Downs eventually put McDermott back in the sixth man role because he felt a coach's son would be mature enough to handle coming off the bench, McDermott still contributed enough to earn all-state honors and help lead Ames to the first of two straight undefeated seasons.
It's difficult for Downs to explain for sure how McDermott could flourish on such a prominent team without becoming a more sought-after recruit, but the longtime coach has a few theories.
Downs suggested college coaches may have feared McDermott wasn't tall enough to guard high-major big men or quick enough to guard elite wings. He also noted that McDermott's ability to quietly score in bunches without touching the ball very often made him easier to overlook than a prospect with lightning-quick first step to the basket or an imposing physique.
"I can't tell you how many coaches came through the gym, saw him play and passed on him," Downs said. "They saw Doug and they'd say he was a good player, but I don't know what the deal was. I don't know if they thought he couldn't guard at their level or he wasn't big enough, but the kid can flat-out play."
Originally headed to Northern Iowa to play for the program his father previously coached, the younger McDermott backed out of his letter of intent and went to Creighton instead when Greg left Iowa State to coach the Bluejays in April 2010. Doug approached his father with the idea once Greg accepted the job, and this time the elder McDermott agreed after receiving the blessing of Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson.
The addition of both McDermotts has enabled Creighton to survive the surprise departure of coach Dana Altman without enduring a rebuilding season. The Bluejays salvaged an up-and-down season last year by making the CBI finals against Oregon and have risen to No. 19 in the AP Top 25 this year thanks to an impressive 7-0 start.
What has made the younger McDermott an instant success at Creighton is his ability to dominate a game without dominating the ball. Just like he did in high school, McDermott will often go 25 seconds without touching the ball on a possession, then score on a pick-and-pop, a put-back or deft post move.
He was one of just three freshmen nationally to lead their team in scoring and rebounding last season, averaging 14.9 points and 7.2 boards. And despite frequent double teams this season, he's averaging 23.7 points per game, shooting 62.6 percent from the field and hitting 57.7 percent of his threes.
"I knew he had a chance to be good, but I wouldn't have guessed he'd be this good this fast," Greg McDermott said. "He has added things to his game that have surprised me that it's happened this quickly. Having said that, he spends a lot of time in the gym. And when that happens, good things happen on game night."