The list of candidates for The World-Herald's Ware Award shaped up as a usually strong one.
It included Ameer Abdullah, the Nebraska football player who rushed for almost 1,700 yards while earning All-America honors last season. Terran Petteway led Nebraska's basketball resurgence last winter, helping the Huskers end their long drought in the NCAA tournament. Jordan Hooper also starred on the court for the Huskers, earning All-America honors while shepherding her team to the NCAA tournament.
Many a year, the athletic and academic résumés compiled by Nebraska volleyball player Kelsey Robinson, Husker gymnast Emily Wong, NU softball player Taylor Edwards or University of Nebraska at Omaha track star Sami Spenner might have made them the winner of the award The World-Herald annually presents to the four-year college athlete in the state who made the most significant achievement in sports while representing the best traditions of his or her institution.
But this year's pick was really a no-brainer. Creighton's Doug McDermott won just about every national college basketball player of the year award out there last season. He earned consensus first-team All-America honors for the third straight year, putting his name alongside those of Oscar Robertson, Lew Alcindor, Pete Maravich, Bill Walton, Patrick Ewing and Wayman Tisdale. McDermott finished his Creighton career with 3,150 points, fifth most in NCAA history.
Today he becomes the first two-time winner of the Ware Award, which The World-Herald has presented the past 34 years. The award is named for the late Fred Ware, who organized The World-Herald's sports department and served as sports editor from 1924 to '42. He later was the newspaper's managing editor and a member of The World-Herald's board of directors.
The Ware Award might not be as prestigious as some of the ones McDermott claimed in college, but, in his mind, he does not differentiate between the honors.
"I think they all feel like one big award for the hard work I put in at Creighton," he said. "I really don't look at any one award and think, 'That was the one that I was chasing.' It's more a collective deal.
"Obviously, it's a huge honor to have those awards, but I look at it as being recognition for what I did for four years."
McDermott won 14 national player of the year awards early in the spring, including the Big Three: the Wooden, the Naismith and the Robertson. He won the Senior CLASS Award, which also considers off-the-court activities. He was the Big East player of the year in Creighton's first season in the reconfigured conference, adding that honor to his two Missouri Valley player of the year awards.
McDermott leaves Creighton for a career in the NBA as not only the most-honored player in school history but arguably its most popular. Jeff Vanderloo can attest to that.
Vanderloo is Creighton's director of basketball operations. For the past year, Vanderloo also has handled requests for McDermott's autograph, which peaked in March when Sports Illustrated put the player and two Creighton dance team members on the cover in reprising a 1977 cover it did with Indiana State star Larry Bird.
Vanderloo is uncertain just how many autographs McDermott signed in the past year.
"It has to be in the thousands," Vanderloo said. "He got stuff to sign from all over the country and overseas. People sent some pretty neat stuff for him to sign, and then when the Sports Illustrated cover hit, he just got flooded with requests."
McDermott also signed countless autographs before and after games, after practices and when he was trying to grab a bite to eat at a local restaurant. As Creighton's version of an A-list celebrity, McDermott posed for hundreds of pictures the past four years. He rarely turned down a request to make someone's day.
"A lot of guys do it because they feel obligated or because they know it's the thing to do," Vanderloo said. "There might have been times where the attention got a little overwhelming for Doug, but I never saw him turn down anyone. He doesn't want to disappoint anyone. He's just a good guy."
McDermott said he sometimes wondered why people wanted his autograph.
"It's not that cool, but people like that stuff," he said. "I tried to do it, and I'd feel bad if I missed one person. I'm a yes man."
One change McDermott is looking forward to as he begins his NBA career with the Chicago Bulls is being just one of the guys instead of THE guy. In the age of social media and 24/7 news cycles, McDermott knows it's impossible to totally avoid the spotlight.
“When people recognize me, they never call me Doug McDermott. They call me McBuckets.”
He got a taste of that in the two months he spent in Chicago while preparing for the draft.
"I was living in the suburbs, in Deerfield, and it's kind of quiet out there," McDermott said. "But I'd go to the grocery store and people would recognize me. People followed my career in college a lot closer than I thought.
"When people recognize me, they never call me Doug McDermott. They call me McBuckets. It's kind of funny."
Still, McBuckets knows the attention on him won't match the focus on some of the Bulls' more established stars.
"I'm not Derrick Rose. I'm not Joakim Noah. I'm the rookie," he said. "I'm trying to make my way, and I'm looking forward to starting from scratch with a new team and new coaches and new fans. It's going to be exciting to go through this again."
The Bulls acquired McDermott in a draft-night trade last month with Denver, which selected him with the 11th pick. Chicago needed scoring punch, and landing McDermott appears to be a step in that direction.
He scored 10 points or more in each of the Bulls' games last week in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas before sitting out the finale Saturday with a minor foot injury. He scored 31 in his second game. Yet he might have gotten more excited about blocking two shots on the same possession in a Thursday night game against Philadelphia.
"I can have a couple of good games offensively," McDermott said, "but to be honest, I'm just focused on improving defensively. That's the main thing I'm working on.
"There are certainly a lot of things I can improve on."
McDermott has found an apartment near downtown, where the Bulls are building a new practice facility. He is looking forward to settling into a routine, getting into the gym and doing everything he can to improve his craft.
McDermott will spend additional time in Las Vegas, as he's been invited to work out against the 19 players trying to make the U.S. national team. Former Bluejay Kyle Korver is among the players vying for a spot on the team that will represent the U.S. in the world championships and the Olympics.
"I'll get to scrimmage against their team," McDermott said. "That's a big honor, and it's pretty cool. After that, I'll head back to Chicago and start getting ready for the season."
One of his concerns, though, has nothing to do with his own fledgling career. He knows the legion of fans he attracted as a Bluejay are still closely following him. He admits that's nice, but ...
"I'm wondering when they're going to let me go," McDermott said. "I just don't want anything to take away from the new Creighton team. I want it to be about them."
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