OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Grant Gibbs gives the basketball to Doug McDermott. McDermott gives Gibbs his scholarship.
It’s been a win-win for everyone at Creighton.
With Gibbs as his wingman for three years, McDermott has ascended to near the top of the NCAA’s career scoring chart. The two share an uncommon connection on the court. Off the court, they’re best buddies.
“If I’m Doug,” coach Greg McDermott said, “I’m a pretty good friend of his, too, if he passes me the ball like Grant does.”
Doug McDermott, the coach’s son, and Gibbs begin their last go-round together Friday when the third-seeded Bluejays (26-7) meet No. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette (23-11) in the NCAA tournament in San Antonio.
“We can kind of solidify what we have kind of built here with a deep tournament run,” Gibbs said. “We’re going to approach it the same way we have our whole time here in terms of playing loose and playing together, all the things that have helped us win a lot of games.”
McDermott, the nation’s top scorer at 26.9 points a game, and Gibbs are part of a senior class that has won a Creighton four-year record 106 games. The Bluejays enter the tournament shooting a nation-leading 42 percent on 3-pointers and averaging 79.5 points.
Doug McDermott said he wouldn’t have scored his 3,105 career points, fifth-most all-time, without a lot of help from Gibbs.
“You guys see it firsthand,” he said. “He’s just a great teammate in general. He’s always finding me in the right spots. It’s really been a cool duo, me and Grant.”
A year ago, no one would have predicted they would have this season together.
McDermott planned to declare for the NBA draft before Creighton left the mid-major Missouri Valley Conference and accepted an invitation to the Big East. He came back because he wanted to test himself in a power conference.
Gibbs’ return was equally improbable. He started his career at Gonzaga in 2008, and his two years there were marred by shoulder and knee injuries. To Creighton’s surprise, the NCAA granted Gibbs’ petition for a medical hardship and a sixth year of eligibility.
Greg McDermott was in a pickle because all 13 scholarships already were allotted for 2013-14 when he found out his son and Gibbs would be back. So he shifted Doug’s scholarship to Gibbs and made Doug a walk-on – a move that has cost Greg McDermott about $44,000.
“I’m getting tired of those tuition bills,” the coach said with a laugh. “But Doug will have a job (soon). I’ll send him a bill. Everything will be good.”
Gibbs’ return has been worth every penny, as far as the coach is concerned. The 6-foot-5 Gibbs averages 7.2 points a game and is shooting a career-best 47.5 percent on 3-pointers.
It’s not the scoring that makes Gibbs valuable. Besides the leadership he provides, Gibbs has averaged 4.9 assists in his 98 games at Creighton. Of his 489 career assists, 231 (47 percent) have come on baskets by McDermott.
“You don’t find college basketball players in this day and age that don’t care if they get to shoot. Grant’s one of those guys,” Greg McDermott said. “He would just as well throw a great pass as make a shot.”
With his injury history, Gibbs was understandably scared in early January when he dislocated his right kneecap. Gibbs missed six games, and it was as if he hadn’t left when he returned Feb. 7 against DePaul. He had a season-high eight assists, six of them setting up McDermott baskets.
Gibbs regularly finds McDermott as he’s cutting through the lane or coming off a screen, or when he’s looking to shoot a 3 as a trailer.
“Grant has the ability to throw the ball to where Doug is going to be, not where he is at that moment,” Greg McDermott said. “Some guys see Doug come open and throw it right to him. Grant will throw it a couple steps ahead of him and let Doug run it down, and now it becomes an easier shot.”
The Bluejays have lost in the NCAA round of 32 the last two years and have said that anything less than the Sweet 16 would be unacceptable. If they’re going to get there, or further, Gibbs is going to have to keep delivering those pinpoint passes to his old friend.
After the tournament, McDermott will become his school’s highest NBA draft pick since Benoit Benjamin went No. 3 overall in 1985. Gibbs plans to go into coaching.
“It’s definitely pretty sad that these are our last few times together,” McDermott said. “It’s also exciting to know what we’ve done here and what we have a chance to do in the tournament.”