McDermott's detractors used to say he was too nice, that he lacked the killer instinct to compete with college basketball's elite. Those critics have been largely silenced this season as Creighton moved from the Missouri Valley to the Big East, and McDermott has led the league -- and the nation -- in scoring (25.9 points a game). Up until this past week's two-game losing skid, McDermott had the Jays in contention for the conference title.
He is not demonstrative or celebratory. When McDermott went on a tear in Tuesday night's loss at Georgetown, draining a flurry of 3-pointers, a Fox Sports broadcaster noted with great excitement how intense McDermott looked. But his facial expression hadn't changed.
"Don't let that boyish nice-kid look deceive you," said Creighton sports psychologist Jack Stark. "Underneath, there is a raging competitor. They used to say the same thing about [Tom] Osborne. You know, nice guy. You spend 10 minutes with Osborne and you start delving deeper, you're going to go, 'Whoa, wait a minute, Nellie, that guy is really competitive.'
"Doug's nice; he's not going to punch you. But I'm telling you, he's intense. He wants to win. He's not jumping up and down and hitting his head on the locker, no, but that kid's got a drive that you just don't see with many guys."
Stark, who also works with NASCAR drivers, football players and MMA athletes, meets with McDermott 90 minutes before every game, either in person or on the phone, and they do visual relaxation exercises for at least 15 minutes. McDermott has done this since his freshman year of college.
Stark asks McDermott to map out his best performance, and they go over game scenarios. McDermott says this helps calm him down. Stark estimates that McDermott's brain is about 1 to 1.5 seconds ahead of everybody. He compares it to hockey great Wayne Gretzky, who once said, "A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be."
But then the inevitable question arises -- the one about how a barely recruited kid from Iowa could go from serviceable to the leading candidate for national player of the year -- and the answer is far more simple.
He shoots baskets at 11 o'clock at night, trying to perfect his already-smooth 3-point shot. He added a Dirk Nowitzki-esque fadeaway jumper to his repertoire. Much of this is done without the supervision of his father. For years, Creighton athletic director Bruce Rasmussen often would find McDermott in the gym, after dinner working on something he wasn't satisfied with in practice.
"He's not a genetic freak in terms of his size, jumping ability or strength," Rasmussen said. "Doug is successful because he looks at practice as a minimum job description. To me, he's a great example of the way I should conduct my life. I'll have a day where I struggle. If you're Doug, you go back to the office and think, 'Well, what can I do to have it go better?'"
McDermott was roughly 40 pounds lighter when he made his recruiting visit to Creighton. Dana Altman was the Jays' coach at the time, and Greg was at Iowa State. They played a round of golf, and when Altman and Rasmussen beat the elder McDermott, Greg jokingly groused that he thought the coach was supposed to let the father of the recruit win.