Doug McDermott watched intently as the NBA draft unfolded last month.
Some of the players selected were guys the Creighton forward knew or had played against — and, in some cases, even schooled on the basketball court.
When it was over, McDermott sent text messages to his mom and dad.
“I just wanted them to know I had no regrets about my decision,” McDermott said. “In fact, I never felt so refreshed.”
McDermott could have heard his name called on draft night. Instead, he had announced in late April that he would return for his senior season at Creighton and continue building a collegiate career that has earned him more awards than he can keep track of.
He adds another Sunday as the 33rd winner of The World-Herald's Fred Ware Award.
The Ware Award is given annually to the four-year college athlete in Nebraska who, in the judgment of the newspaper's editors, made the most significant achievement in sports while representing the best traditions of his or her institution.
The late Fred Ware organized The World-Herald's sports department and served as sports editor from 1924 to '42. He later was the newspaper's managing editor and a member of The World-Herald's board of directors.
McDermott received consideration for the Ware Award in 2012 after setting a school single-season scoring record, leading the Bluejays to the NCAA tournament and earning consensus first-team All-America honors.
He repeated each feat last season. The 6-foot-8 McDermott scored 834 points to break his school record of 801. In the process, he set the career scoring record after just three seasons and heads into his senior season with an outside chance of becoming just the eighth player in NCAA Division I history to score 3,000 career points.
McDermott helped Creighton win an NCAA tournament game in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history.
He repeated as a first-team All-American as well as the Missouri Valley player of the year. McDermott was a finalist for the Naismith, Wooden and Robertson national player of the year awards.
His decision to return to school came after more than a month of deliberation. That period left many a Creighton fan anxious, especially with the Bluejays' move from the Missouri Valley to the Big East next season.
The 10-team basketball-centric conference formed when seven members of the old Big East joined with Creighton, Xavier and Butler.
Having McDermott around next season means his coach will sleep a little easier as he ponders the transition.
“We have one of the elite players in the country as we head into somewhat uncharted territory,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “I also think it's good for the Big East. This league is starting anew in some ways.
“To have a player that has accomplished what Doug has in three years is a positive for the conference as well.”
The new Big East has a couple of marquee names in Georgetown and Marquette and a lucrative television contract with Fox.
What it doesn't have is Louisville, Connecticut, Pitt, Notre Dame and Syracuse — programs that formed the power base of the old league. A player of McDermott's stature will provide the league with a face that the casual college basketball fan can associate with this new amalgamation.
The league, in turn, will give McDermott a more stringent test of his game-in, game-out skills from January to March. He's performed well in previous meetings with top-flight opposition. As a junior, he averaged almost 26 points per game in nine contests against top-50 RPI opponents.
“The way I look at it, playing in the Big East will be like playing in an NCAA tournament game every single night,” he said. “We're not going to be familiar with each other. I'm going to go into this thing with the same mindset — to play as hard as I can and not really try to do anything different.
“I'm not going to try to do things I can't. I know it's going to be tougher, that the guys we'll be facing are going to be more physical and more athletic. At the same time, I think I've proven I can play against those kind of guys.”
Staying grounded has always been one of McDermott's strengths. Despite the tidal wave of attention he's received the past three seasons, he still is as humble as the day he walked on campus.
“He has a kind heart, almost to a fault,” said Jeff Vanderloo, Creighton's director of basketball operations.
A year ago, on the way back from watching the Final Four, McDermott befriended a handicapped youngster he happened to meet in the St. Louis airport.
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“He ended up talking to him for an hour,” Vanderloo said. “Finally, I said, 'Doug, we have to go.' But that is just who he is. He is a good dude.”
Outside of McDermott's parents, Vanderloo might know Doug as well as anyone at Creighton knows him. They met when Doug was a toddler. Vanderloo coached against him in high school, when Doug played for Ames High School and Vanderloo led Sioux City East.
For the past two years, Vanderloo has served as McDermott's adviser. Each basketball assistant coach and Vanderloo have three or four players to keep track of during the school year.
It's rare when McDermott doesn't swing by Vanderloo's office for a daily chat. Sometimes the conversations are serious, dealing with academic issues or basketball problems. Other times, the conversations are a bit more trivial, about sports or other things that occupy the mind of a typical 21-year-old.
“And if he doesn't stop by, I know I'll get a couple of texts from him,” Vanderloo said.
One time, Vanderloo said, Greg McDermott asked what they spent so much time talking about.
“I said, 'You.'”
Doug spent a lot of hours in Vanderloo's office in April as he tried to sort through a life-changing decision about turning pro. Vanderloo would listen and offer advice here and there.
While many associated with the Creighton program fretted that Doug would leave, Vanderloo stayed calm. His gut told him which way McDermott was leaning, maybe even before Doug did.
Doug popped into Vanderloo's office shortly after telling his dad he would return to Creighton. He told Vanderloo that he had made his decision. Vanderloo replied that he already knew what it was.
McDermott looked puzzled. He had not yet told anyone else, including his mom.
“He wanted to know how I knew,” Vanderloo said. “I said, 'When you sit in that chair for two hours a day, I shut my mouth and I listen. I've known for three weeks that you weren't going to the NBA.'
“He's very smart and he knows what he wants. Some guys his age, you have to kind of steer in the right direction. Doug has a good head on his shoulders, and he has a great feel for people.”
A business major, McDermott has flirted with making the dean's list at Creighton.
“He's a good student,” Vanderloo said, “but not a great one.”
McDermott is a great college basketball player. Whether his talents transfer to the professional game is a question he decided he could wait to answer.
He said as he watched the NBA draft, he became even more convinced that he had made the right call. There was maybe an instant or two when he wondered if he might have been the guy drafted rather that the player actually picked.
“It was cool seeing guys I knew and guys that are my friends get drafted,” McDermott said. “And instead of thinking 'that could have been me,' I just thought 'that's going to be me next year.'
“I just knew at this time that I wasn't ready to go, so I'm going to come back and improve as much as I can. There is still so much more that I can do.”