GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Previewing the round of 32 games at Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday:
No. 1 seed North Carolina (30-5) vs. No. 8 seed Creighton (29-5), 5:15 p.m. ET
Greg McDermott knows he made mistakes as Iowa State’s coach.
After leading Northern Iowa to three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances from 2004 to 2006, McDermott seemed like the perfect fit to become the Cyclones’ coach. A native of Cascade, Iowa, McDermott was successful in his first three coaching stops at Division II Wayne State in Nebraska, North Dakota State and then Northern Iowa.
After spending a dozen seasons coaching at college basketball’s lower levels, McDermott seemed ready for the sport’s big time.
Instead, McDermott endured four consecutive losing seasons at Iowa State, compiling a 59-68 record and never finishing better than 6-10 in the Big 12. McDermott resigned as the Cyclones’ coach after the 2009-10 season, when Creighton mercifully threw him a lifeboat to save his sinking career.
“I made some mistakes,” McDermott said. “I made some mistakes in recruiting. I made some mistakes with my dealings with some of our players that resulted in some guys transferring. And I think if you understand yourself and you take a look in the mirror, you better grow from that and learn from that.”
McDermott has resurrected his career with the Bluejays, who will play No. 1 seed North Carolina in a Midwest Regional third-round game at Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday.
“I think that the Missouri Valley is just a really good fit for him,” said Creighton forward Doug McDermott, the coach’s son. “[It’s] a mid-major conference, a really good league, and I just think the Big 12 might have been a little bit of a wake-up call. I think he’s more comfortable in the Missouri Valley Conference recruiting wise and he just feels in his comfort zone, so he’s really happy to be here.”
Ironically, McDermott’s move to Creighton prevented him from making perhaps the biggest recruiting mistake of his career -- not recruiting his son. Doug McDermott signed to play for Northern Iowa during his senior season at Ames (Iowa) High School in 2010. Greg McDermott didn’t think his son was good enough to play at Iowa State, and frankly, didn’t think his program was good enough for him, either.
“The culture that I had created with the program at Iowa State wasn’t where I wanted it to be,” Greg McDermott said. “I was constantly plugging holes because of guys transferring. And when you do that, it becomes a vicious cycle of things probably not going very well. And Doug was around it every day and I’m not sure that he was that excited to be part of it.”
Under McDermott’s watch, the Cyclones began to fall apart after leading scorer Mike Taylor, a junior college transfer, was dismissed from the team for off-court problems in 2007. The next year, forward Wesley Johnson transferred to Syracuse after two seasons at Iowa State. Johnson injured his foot in 2007-08 and didn’t learn it was actually broken until after the season. He was named Big East Player of the Year in his only season with the Orange and was the fourth pick in the 2010 NBA draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
With so much uncertainty at Iowa State, Doug McDermott thought playing for his father’s former school was a better option.
“To be honest, I didn’t really want to play for him there, either,” McDermott said. “I felt like I was a Missouri Valley Conference fit. I felt like it was a good fit for me at Northern Iowa and at the time we just decided to go separate ways.”
But when Greg McDermott signed a 10-year contract with Creighton, the Panthers agreed to release Doug to play for his father. Greg McDermott said he consulted several colleagues who coached their sons -- like former Indiana coach Bob Knight, Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, former Washington State coach Dick Bennett and Michigan coach John Beilein -- about having Doug on his team.
“Almost to a man they felt if your son was going to be one of your best players, it would work fine,” Greg McDermott said. “Or if your son was a walk-on that never played, it would work fine. But if he is in the middle, if he’s your fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth guy, it creates a lot of additional pressure for your son and for you as his coach.”
That hasn’t been a problem at Creighton, where Doug McDermott has easily been the Bluejays’ best player over the past two seasons. This season, he was the country’s third-leading scorer with 23.2 points per game and was the first sophomore in history to be named MVC Player of the Year. McDermott scored 16 points with 10 rebounds in the No. 8-seeded Bluejays’ 58-57 victory over No. 9 seed Alabama in Friday’s second round.
“I don’t think anybody saw this coming,” Greg McDermott said of his son’s rapid development.
But North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who recruited Harrison Barnes, McDermott’s highly coveted teammate at Ames High School, said he told Greg McDermott his son was good enough to play at a program like Iowa State or anywhere else.
“Greg and I were standing outside the locker room when Ames won the state championship their senior year,” Williams said. “I said, ‘You’re crazy.’ I said, ‘If he’s my son, he’s going to play for me. He’s good enough to play for you.’ And that’s when Greg was at Iowa State, and he had already signed that fall with Northern Iowa. And Greg said, ‘Well, you know, I wish he were a little taller and a little stronger, and I don’t really want to put that kind of pressure on him,’ which I can appreciate that. But I said, ‘I still think you’re crazy because he would have been able to be a very successful player at Iowa State or North Carolina or anywhere.’”
On Sunday, McDermott will try to prove he and the rest of the Bluejays are good enough to topple the mighty Tar Heels.