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As the family moved around the Midwest with Greg's coaching gigs, Doug tagged along to his dad's practices and games, serving as ball boy for his Northern Iowa teams and rebounding for Creighton's Kyle Korver, now a guard with the Bulls. Yet he didn't think he'd be in Korver's league. "I never had any huge dreams," says McDermott. "Once I got into middle school I wasn't the best player, so I never thought I'd be playing this level of college basketball. I thought I'd be just a normal player—maybe a D-II guy or one of my dad's managers."
His outlook started to change when Greg took the job at Iowa State before Doug entered ninth grade. Six feet tall and skinny, McDermott was relegated to the Ames High freshman and sophomore squads his first two seasons. By junior year he had shot up to 6'6" and joined a varsity that would become one of the most storied teams in Iowa history. Its undisputed star was 6'6" Harrison Barnes, now a North Carolina All-America candidate, the most sought-after recruit in the nation and the hardest worker Doug had ever seen. "Harrison went to school every morning at six, lifted and got shots up, something I really wasn't doing," says McDermott. "Seeing the success he had, it made me want to work hard and get better."
As a sophomore, McDermott was a member of a golf team that went to the state championships—where he came in dead last, as his older brother, Nick, Ames High's top golfer that year, likes to remind him—but he dropped that sport to focus on hoops. He spent extra time in the gym working on skills, and he accompanied Barnes to pickup games at Iowa State. "Harrison always was killing while I was the guy getting a few open shots a game," says McDermott. "Playing against those bigger, more athletic guys really helped me become a better player. I had to figure out ways to get my shots off."
McDermott began his junior season as a reserve, but when one of the starters had to sit out a month for academic reasons, McDermott seized the opportunity. "Doug was fantastic, unbelievable," says Ames High coach Vance Downs. But having promised the team that the other player would return to the starting lineup when he regained eligibility, Downs was in a bind. Without complaint, McDermott came off the bench for the last few weeks and became one of the best sixth men in Iowa history: For the season he averaged 14.0 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting 71.5% from the field and 47.9% from the three as the Little Cyclones completed the first of back-to-back undefeated 4A seasons.
Almost every gym the Little Cyclones played in was packed, the crush for autographs so thick the players needed security just to get to the locker room. Dozens of power-conference coaches came to see Barnes, yet none of them showed much interest in his fellow all-stater, who weighed 185 pounds, played mostly in the paint and didn't handle the ball that well. Even Greg, whose program at Iowa State was plagued by transfers, losing records and "a culture I had created but didn't like," he says, was reluctant to recruit Doug. "We had decided early that it probably wasn't a good fit for him," says Greg. "At the time he projected as a role player. I talked to a number of coaches who coached their son at that level. It's much easier if he's one of your best players or he's a walk-on that never plays. Anywhere in the middle can make it difficult. As his father, I wanted him to have a great experience."
After taking a few visits to mid-majors, including Creighton, where coach Dana Altman told McDermott he'd have to pay his own way the first season, he signed with Northern Iowa in November of his senior year. But when Creighton hired Greg to replace Altman that spring, Doug wanted a release from his letter of intent. "I thought, Wow, I have to play for my dad," he said. "That's a no-brainer."
Greg agreed, as did, graciously, Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson, Greg's successor in Cedar Falls and the godfather to Doug's 11-year-old sister, Sydney. "It happened so fast we didn't have time to talk ourselves out of it," says Greg. Theresa, who had spent years dividing her time between her son's and her husband's games, was thrilled. "The best thing is not the convenience, which is awesome," she says. "I always thought it would be so neat if Doug ran out of that tunnel with his dad walking behind him on the same team. Then when it happened, it was like, wow. This is the pinnacle."
Greg still wasn't convinced his son was D-I ready. He proposed redshirting. "I think he did that just to make me work harder," says McDermott, who responded, packing on 15 pounds in the weight room that summer. When the two veteran players at his position were limited by injuries before the 2010--11 season started, redshirting was no longer an option. As he had in high school, McDermott made the most of his chance: He started every game, led the team with 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds, and became the first freshman to earn first-team All-MVC honors in 59 years.
After the season, he worked out every day in Omaha with trainer Brian Hoffman, gaining weight and confidence so he could take advantage of another opportunity, this one with USA Basketball. He not only made the U-19 World championship team but also started all nine games and was the team's third-leading scorer and third-leading rebounder. "That helped my confidence a bunch because the coaches had so much confidence in me," he says. "This year I'm stronger physically and mentally."
Suddenly it's McDermott, not his old Ames High running mate, who is surging up the player of the year lists. "It's all well deserved," says Barnes. "He was extremely talented but just under the radar. Now that he's able to lead his team and have his own limelight, I think it's great."