Published Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 12:01 am / Updated at 12:47 am
BASKETBALL
Shatel: Staying true to himself has Doug McDermott leaving a legacy like Larry Bird

On a legacy Sunday, Dougie Legend saved his best moves for last.

The double teams kept coming, swarming at Doug McDermott. But this young man is the player of the year next door, and he handles the autograph seekers like he does the ball-hawking defenders of the Big East. He's either killing you with jumpers or kindness.

McDermott had just finished doing a radio interview on press row. And no sooner did he take the headsets off in a near-empty CenturyLink Center than the line formed to the left. Kids, teenage girls, grandmas, a guy who looked like he drove a truck for a living.

Dougie Legend took a picture with all of them, posing for cellphone portraits that no doubt will go viral to the teenage girl network around the country. Doug with his arms around strangers. Smiling every time.

Then McDermott saw them.

A group of men from Ames High School walked up, one pushing Ed Schwiegert in a wheelchair. McDermott went right up to Schwiegert, leaned down and gave him a hug. Thanks for coming. Glad you could make it. Schwiegert, a former coach at Ames High, was at his first Creighton game.

Doug scored 39 and passed Larry Bird on the all-time NCAA scoring list for the occasion. Sure glad you could make it, Ed.

Next up: Barney Cotton and sons. Now an assistant football coach at Nebraska, Cotton used to be at Iowa State. Doug became friends with Jake Cotton at Ames High. You know Jake, the senior offensive tackle at NU.

On Sunday, he was the guy wearing a white No. 3 Creighton jersey.

Doug embraced all of them, did another photo gallery, then followed a security guard down the baseline and to the locker room. On the way, he stopped to sign a Creighton book, a basketball, a poster and a bunch of other trinkets. Thanking everybody along the way for coming.

It goes without saying, but, thank you, Doug, for being here.

This is the stuff of legends, kids. This is your role model. McDermott grew up the kid next door, and he hasn't stopped being that guy. He never forgot where he came from, even though he's going somewhere else really fast.

This is called a legacy, kids. This is the kind of legacy you want. The fame and fortune? It goes away, kids. The jump shots and applause all fade away, into DVRs down at the bookstore.

And when I asked Doug a question he'll no doubt be asked a bunch the next few weeks, he didn't hesitate.

“How do I want to be remembered?” McDermott said, repeating the question. “I want to be remembered as someone who treated people well. A good guy.”

They can engrave that on the statue one day. But there's another legacy right now, one that Doug has to have. You know it, I know it, Doug knows it, the truck driver guy in line knows it.

A deep run in March. Yes, go ahead, say it.

Final Four.

Bird became that legend in the NBA. Passing his name on the scoring list resonates because of all he meant in becoming one of the great players of all time. But that legend started in college. It started because Bird took Indiana State on his back to the 1979 Final Four.

For all he's done in four years at Creighton, McDermott's résumé has a hole.

“That's what's missing,” Doug said.

There's another comparison that applies here. It's not a perfect match. This Creighton team is more skilled and talented than 1988 Kansas. But the concept of the game's best player driving the bus? It works.

Remember Danny Manning and the Miracles, Doug? No, sir. He says he doesn't know the story. Doug said he knows Manning was a great player, a four-year guy, had his NBA career cut short.

Well, Doug, he also put his team on his back and carried them to the 1988 NCAA championship.

“I'd like to do that,” McDermott said, without hesitation. “I want to do that for our team, our seniors, the school, the city of Omaha. That's something (deep run in March) that we haven't done.

“We can do it. We can play with anyone in the country. Tonight showed that.”

Yes, sir. Creighton now has two smackdowns of a Villanova team that has beaten Kansas and Iowa, owns a top-10 RPI and has been projected as a No. 2 seed. If CU can grind out a Big East title or tie Nova for it, that could be them. Barring a collapse, the Jays most certainly will end up with the highest NCAA seed in school history (their highest is No. 6 in 2003).

It's all right there for Creighton, all of it, and it's no more mind-blowing than the stuff you've seen No. 3 do game in and game out. That's what Sunday was all about, too. By thumping Nova again, by moving to 21-4 and up the RPI ladder, Doug is putting Creighton into a position to finish that legacy off in March. To do what Larry did.

“It's unbelievable,” Doug said of passing Bird. “But if he had the 3-point line and he had played four years, he'd be way ahead of me.”

Doug never saw Larry Legend play live, but he's seen the videos and game tapes. He's tried to copy some of the moves. These two are kindred spirits in this sense: They both have an uncanny vision and anticipation for what's next. And they never stop moving.

“It's pretty cool for our family to see the names like that he's passing as he goes up the ladder,” said CU coach Greg McDermott, who did watch Bird as he grew up in small-town Iowa. “You're proud to hear his name with that name. But I'm just as proud that Doug doesn't rest on his laurels, stays with the grind, is so driven to help his team win.”

Driven to win. That was Bird. Now, that is Doug.

How far can the comparison go? Deep into March? You never plan or expect these things, but something Doug said after Sunday's game, and the way he said it, bodes well for Creighton fans.

“I live for these kinds of games,” McDermott said. “Big games, big crowds, all the attention. These are the best.”

Keep those autograph pens handy. The legend is still being written.

* * *

Video: Creighton-Villanova game highlights:



Video: Greg McDermott's postgame press conference:



Video: Doug McDermott discusses passing Larry Bird:



Video: Villanova coach Jay Wright on Creighton, Doug McDermott:

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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