Basketball / Sports

'Small' Doug McDermott grew into big-time player

CHICAGO -- Vance Downs vividly remembers the first time he met Doug McDermott.

"My first impression was, 'Wow, he's small!'" the longtime coach of Ames (Iowa) High said by phone. "His father told me he was the same size at Doug's age, maybe even a little smaller. And he grew to be a very large man. But it was one of those things where I thought, 'It's dad talk.' And you shake your head, smile and move on."

As his father, Greg, coached Iowa State, McDermott ignored Downs' doubts. Even as Harrison Barnes, now with the Warriors, jumped to Ames' varsity as a freshman, McDermott kept lifting weights, kept working on his game.

Gangly and raw, McDermott didn't make varsity until his junior year and still didn't start full time then. But he hit a growth spurt, shooting up six inches, and found a competitive companion in Barnes.

"As a coach, you want it to be tremendously competitive in practice," Downs said. "But with those guys I remember thinking maybe we need to ratchet it down a bit. You had to put them on different teams for every drill. The practices got ridiculous."

So did the winning. Behind the North Carolina-bound Barnes and the blossoming McDermott, the Little Cyclones reeled off 53 straight victories en route to two unbeaten, state championship seasons.

McDermott signed a letter of intent to play at Northern Iowa. Downs pulled him aside. Downs told McDermott if he kept working at his game, Downs thought he could make a living at it, maybe play overseas.

"I remember him almost cutting me off, 'If I keep working?'" Downs said. "What I said sounds pretty stupid now, huh?"

Kyle Korver heard about McDermott before he met him.

Greg McDermott left Iowa State in 2010 to take over the Creighton program for which Korver once starred. Word came that McDermott's son, to whom Greg didn't even offer a scholarship at Iowa State, would get out of his Northern Iowa commitment and join his father.

"I don't think anyone thought he could turn into a star player," Korver said in a phone conversation. "I think everyone assumed coach wanted a coach's son and that would be a good story in itself. And then all of a sudden, Dougie was putting up some big numbers."

Korver scored 1,801 points in four solid seasons from 1999 to 2003. McDermott passed that total during his junior year en route to 3,150, one of eight players in NCAA history to surpass 3,000 points.

Korver, 11 years the elder, has befriended McDermott. In fact, he spoke by phone Friday night from the Creighton campus before a wedding both were scheduled to attend. They don't talk much X's and O's, instead focusing on topics like handling pressure and maximizing potential.

Korver is confident McDermott will do so well.

"It's such a good pick for the Bulls," Korver said. "He's really smart. He has the size (6 feet 8, 218 pounds). He's more athletic than people think. He will be under Thibs (coach Tom Thibodeau) and learn defense and angles and good team philosophy right away. He works incredibly hard. And he can shoot that thing."

The Mayor of Ames knew. Well, more accurately, The Mayor from Ames knew.

In 2009, Fred Hoiberg tuned in a nationally-televised game of Ames High to watch Barnes, then the nation's top-ranked player, play for Hoiberg's alma mater. Downs served as an assistant coach when Hoiberg's Ames team captured the 1991 state crown.

"Harrison did some really good things that game," Hoiberg recalled on the phone. "But I said, 'Why isn't anybody on this McDermott kid?'"

Hoiberg is a legend in Ames. His nickname stems from receiving write-in votes for the 1993 mayoral race as the hometown product starred for Johnny Orr at Iowa State. Now he's the Cyclones coach, succeeding Greg McDermott in 2010 and building a perennial power.

But he never found an answer for his fellow Ames High alum and Greg's son.

"We scrimmaged them last year and Doug was 8-for-8 in the first half for 20 points and ended up with 33," Hoiberg said. "He just shredded us. And he showed all those moves -- the up-and-unders, hitting 3s, the whole arsenal.

"He's a heckuva player. I think the world of him. I think he's going to be a great pro."

Downs, whom McDermott invited with him to New York for Thursday's NBA draft, once thought McDermott could play overseas. Korver figured he would be a good story as a coach's son. Hoiberg guessed right.

But all three men are in agreement about something else, something more lasting.

"He's as good a kid as you're going to find," Hoiberg said.

Downs: "I'm going to look up every positive adjective I can think of. He's hard-working. He's humble. He's modest. He's great with people. I can go on and on and on. He's just special in a lot of ways. And it's not phony. He's a Midwestern kid who has a tremendous amount of positive characteristic traits."

Korver: "He is a really good guy. The whole city was riding with them the last couple of years. He was a really big deal with a ton of pressure and expectations that I'm sure he felt. But he handled everything with such class and ease. He says the right things. And it's not just repetition coming out of his mouth. That's truly who he is."

That's the thing about McDermott: He keeps coming.

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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