Fighting Hawks to take on Creighton, coached by former UND assistant
OMAHA, Neb. — Creighton men's basketball is the big show in Omaha. The Bluejays, coached by former University of North Dakota assistant Greg McDermott, regularly play before more than 17,000 fans at the CenturyLink Center.
The Bluejays already have played four teams ranked in the AP Top 25 poll this season and are in the mix to compete for the Big East title.
Tonight, UND will be in the national spotlight as the Fighting Hawks take on Creighton and McDermott, who still has ties to Grand Forks and UND.
The Bluejays, who fell out of the Top 25 on Monday, are 5-2 while UND — in the midst of perhaps its most difficult nonconference schedule in program history — comes in at 4-3.
For McDermott, the game serves as a reminder where his career started — in a small men's basketball office at the Hyslop Sports Center in 1989.
"Mac was willing to go do things and not wait for me to tell him what to do," said former UND coach Rich Glas, who hired McDermott in 1989. "He was not afraid to do things. I gave him a lot of rope to figure out things like recruiting and he went out and did it.
"He has a great knowledge of the game. He has that 'it' factor."
The two still keep in touch frequently. Earlier this season, McDermott had Glas talk to his team after a practice in Omaha.
"I just talked about attitude, things that I had preached for 37 years as a head coach," said Glas, the winningest coach in UND history.
Glas knew big things were in store for McDermott when he left in 1994 to take over as the Wayne (Neb.) State head coach.
"When he went off to Wayne State, I had all the confidence in the world in him," said Glas. "I knew he'd do well."
And McDermott has done well, as he's had successful stints at Wayne State, North Dakota State, Northern Iowa, Iowa State and now Creighton.
McDermott credits Glas and UND for helping him launch his successful career. His overall record heading into tonight's game is 450-280, with seven NCAA Tournament appearances in 17 Division I seasons.
"The building blocks of my coaching career were laid at that time," said McDermott in an interview on 740 The Fan. "And I couldn't ask for a better mentor (than Glas)."
McDermott's son, Doug, played for his father at Creighton and now is with the New York Knicks. Doug was born in Grand Forks in 1992 while his father was still Glas' assistant. And Doug's middle name is Richard — a tribute to Glas.
Tonight, though, the friendly ties between McDermott, UND and Grand Forks will last until tipoff but will continue again 40 minutes later.
"We'll be hospitable until the game starts," said McDermott.
Even though it's a nonconference game, tonight's crowd likely will push 17,000. Last season, Creighton averaged 17,400 fans per game. Capacity at CenturyLink is listed at 17,300.
UND will face a team that is coming off a 91-74 loss last week at No. 12 Gonzaga. The Bluejays also are beginning a five-game homestand as they prepare for their Big East opener Dec. 28 at Seton Hall.
Both teams play an up-tempo style as the Bluejays, led by all-Big East first team selection Marcus Foster (18.4 ppp), average 89.9 points. UND, led by Geno Crandall (19.0), averages 78.1 points.
"It's going to be a fun game to watch because both teams like to play with a lot of pace," McDermott said. "Their guards are terrific and they'll give us everything we want."
One of UND's guards, Marlon Stewart, played for McDermott at Creighton two seasons ago before transferring to UND. Stewart played in 13 games during his freshman season in Omaha.
UND, however, will need to shoot the ball better tonight to stay with the Bluejays. UND is shooting 45 percent overall but only 26.3 percent on 3-point attempts.
But the chance to play in another big-time environment appeals to UND coach Brian Jones, who, like McDermott, played collegiately at Northern Iowa.
"Omaha is a great basketball town," said Jones. "And Mac is a guy who you want to back because he is such a positive guy. He's the face of that community and that program."