Creighton coach McDermott comfy in Missouri Valley
Greg McDermott wouldn't trade the experience of coaching in the Big 12 at Iowa State. Still, he sure feels at home again in the Missouri Valley Conference.
''Some of the best days of my coaching life took place in this league,'' Creighton's first-year coach said Thursday, ''and I'm happy to be back.''
McDermott led Northern Iowa to three straight NCAA tournaments before starting a disappointing four-year run at Iowa State. He had no winning seasons with the Cyclones and resigned to take the Creighton job in April.
If McDermott feels awkward about his Bluejays (3-0) playing the Cyclones (3-0) on Sunday in Des Moines, Iowa, he isn't showing it. Creighton signed on for the game before McDermott was hired, and the new coach never tried to take it off the schedule.
''This is an important game for our program,'' McDermott said. ''We don't get the opportunity at this level to play BCS schools on a neutral floor very often. The sideshow that has developed because I left Iowa State and happened to come to Creighton, that's exactly what it is. It's just a little side note that's part of the game.''
McDermott pointed out that it would be no different from his first season at Iowa State, when the Cyclones played a November road game against the school he had just left. Northern Iowa won.
The only players remaining that McDermott coached last year at Iowa State are seniors Diante Garrett, Scott Christopherson, Jamie Vanderbeken and redshirt freshman Bubu Palo. Garrett said he's looking forward to seeing McDermott on the other bench.
''It's going to give me more energy,'' he said.
McDermott also had a hand in recruiting seven ISU newcomers, and he's friends with the coach who replaced him, Fred Hoiberg, and other holdovers on the staff.
Hoiberg said McDermott has a huge advantage preparing for the game.
''Coach Mac knows these guys inside and out,'' Hoiberg said. ''He knows their strengths, he knows their weaknesses - I'm sure he's going to try to expose that. I've got a ton of respect for coach Mac. I think he'll do a tremendous job at Creighton.''
The 46-year-old McDermott left for Creighton seven weeks after Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard had given him a public vote of confidence. Though McDermott had to deal with a glut of injuries and defections, Cyclones fans were growing frustrated with the program's lack of progress.
The timing for the Creighton job was fortuitous.
''This is a unique job,'' McDermott said. ''There probably aren't many of its kind anywhere in the country because of the facility we play in, the 13,000-plus season tickets and we're in a great city that loves basketball. I feel like I moved to a very good job that's probably as good as the one I left.''
McDermott's freshman son, Doug, followed him to Creighton after Northern Iowa released him from his letter of intent. Doug McDermott said he knows his father is happier coaching at a mid-major.
''I think it's the right level for him,'' Doug McDermott said.
The main difference is in recruiting, coach McDermott said, because it's simpler dealing directly with players and their parents. In the major conferences, he said, a coach has to deal with recruits who often are represented by AAU coaches, some of them unscrupulous, and other people who don't have a player's best interests at heart.
''At this level, your upper-tier players have dreams of playing professionally, but they also understand the value of a free education and what that education will mean for you long-term,'' McDermott said.
The Bluejays have beaten Alabama State, Northern Arizona and Louisiana-Lafayette despite shooting a combined 38 percent. Antoine Young, Doug McDermott and Kenny Lawson Jr. are averaging in double figures. Creighton will have a new dynamic inside when 6-foot-9, 270-pound Rutgers transfer Gregory Echenique becomes eligible on Dec. 18.
''They're a joy to coach,'' McDermott said. ''They want to get better, they want to work, and they're in tune to what we're trying to ask them to do.''
The biggest change from former coach Dana Altman's system is on the defensive end. Altman liked to switch defenses and employ full- and half-court pressure. McDermott primarily uses man-to-man.
McDermott, who has a 10-year contract, said he's loved every minute of his new job.
''The people of Omaha and the Creighton community have embraced myself and my family and made this transition extremely easy for us,'' he said. ''We couldn't be happier and are very excited about what hopefully will be a lot of great years in Omaha.''