Tony Mitchell laughs when he recalls his first meeting with Doug McDermott.
It came two summers ago in Colorado Springs, Colo., when the two were trying to earn spots on a United States national team that would play in a world tournament for players 19 and under.
“We were scrimmaging, and there was this white boy making shots from all over the place,'' Mitchell said. “I had no idea who he was. I started guarding him and maybe blocked one of his shots. But he's still scoring.
“I asked him, 'What's your name? Where are you from?' He told me he was Doug from Creighton. Told me he had played in Ames, and that refreshed my memory. I remembered watching a lot of his team's games on ESPN when he was in high school.''
Mitchell and McDermott made the U.S. team, became good buddies.
“When he wasn't napping,'' McDermott said, “he was a great guy to be around. I knew a little about him before the tryouts because his name showed up on all of those recruiting sites I used to look at. I knew he was a really good player.''
McDermott and Mitchell parted ways after returning from Latvia but have kept in touch over the past two years. Their paths again will intersect Friday night when McDermott's Creighton team opens a much-anticipated season against Mitchell's North Texas club.
The 7:05 p.m. game at CenturyLink Center brings together two players who, by any measure, are recognized as among the top seven or eight in the country this season.
Mitchell, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, has been called a “freak athlete.'' He has a 40-inch vertical jump. He's big enough to jam up the middle and quick enough to lead the fast break. He is a player with lottery-pick potential when it comes to next summer's NBA draft.
McDermott is college basketball's Mr. Efficiency. As a sophomore, when he became Creighton's first first-team All-American, the 6-7 forward shot 60 percent from the field and almost 49 percent from 3-point range. He averaged 22.9 points and 8.2 rebounds a game. He, too, could hear his name called on draft day.
“He's the most efficient player I've seen in 21 years at the Division I level,'' North Texas coach Tony Benford said. “He's the total package. I've watched him on tape, and it's scary.''
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Creighton coach Greg McDermott comes away with a similar feeling after watching videotape of Mitchell.
“He doesn't shoot it and score it like a Michael Beasley, but he's just as good of an athlete,'' said the coach, referring to the former Kansas State star who matched up against McDermott's teams at Iowa State. “If there is a better front-line athlete in the country, I don't know who that would be.
“He's a tremendous athlete that has become a much better basketball player from the time I saw him playing in Latvia when he was playing with Doug. He's made great strides with his skill level.''
As tempting as it would be to paint Friday's game the Doug McDermott versus Tony Mitchell show, it figures to be much more than that. Creighton and North Texas are both overwhelming preseason favorites to win their respective leagues — the Missouri Valley and Sun Belt.
The supporting casts for both teams are strong. Benford, making his head coaching debut, inherited plenty of talent from predecessor Johnny Jones. McDermott's third season at Creighton begins with nine of the top 10 players back from last season's 29-win team.
The one who isn't is point guard Antoine Young, a three-year starter. Austin Chatman, who backed up Young last season, is set to take over and provides an interesting subplot to Friday's opener.
Chatman grew up in the Dallas suburb of The Colony. Two of his AAU teammates were Chris Jones, the Mean Green's starting point guard, and Jordan Williams, who split time last season between starting and serving as North Texas' sixth man.
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“I've been playing with a lot of their guys since I was really young,'' Chatman said. “It definitely is exciting to be playing a lot of guys that you know.''
The opener marks a return to the court for Jones and Williams. Academic issues sidelined each player for the second half of last season. Jones was averaging 14.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists when he went to the sidelines after 19 games.
When they were AAU teammates, Chatman was asked, which guy got to run the team from the point?
“We both did,'' he said, laughing.
Chatman's freshman statistics were a bit more modest than his former teammate's. He played an average of 12 minutes and averaged 2.4 points and a shade under two assists per game.
Greg McDermott said the Bluejays have no qualms handing the keys to the offense over to the sophomore.
“He's earned this, and I think his teammates have confidence in him,'' the coach said.
NOTES: Doug McDermott earned some more preseason accolades Thursday, landing spots on All-America teams announced by Sports Illustrated and ESPN. Three of SI's four primary college basketball reporters tabbed McDermott as the player of the year, and he also earned similar support from three of ESPN's 17 college basketball experts. He also was one of 50 players named to the Wooden Award preseason watch list. … As of midday Thursday, about 1,000 tickets remained for the opening game. … McDermott has scored 10 points or more in his past 36 games, the third-longest active streak in the country.
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