It was the elephant in the room as Creighton's basketball players started preparing for next season.
“We never really talked about it, but I know every guy was thinking it,” forward Ethan Wragge said. “If Doug didn't come back, we'd be heading into next season without our top three scorers from this season.
“That would have made it tough.”
The Bluejays' row to hoe became a whole lot easier Thursday when two-time first-team All-American Doug McDermott announced he would return for his senior season rather than declare for the NBA draft.
In addition to knowing that they were getting back a player who averaged 23 points and 8 rebounds a game last season, the Bluejays can begin moving full speed ahead in preparations for their first season in the new Big East.
“We can start defining roles now that we know he's back,” guard Jahenns Manigat said. “Before he decided, there was some uncertainty. I think we all know that we're going to have to improve as we get ready to play in the new league.
“Guys are still going to do that, but we all understand what Doug means to this team. He's such a big piece of what we do.”
If McDermott had decided to turn professional, Creighton would have started next season without players who had accounted for 59.8 percent of the team's scoring and 52.9 percent of its rebounding.
The Bluejays knew they were losing starters Gregory Echenique and Grant Gibbs, although there is the slightest of chances that Gibbs might return if he petitions the NCAA and is granted a sixth season of eligibility.
McDermott's decision to come back means Creighton will return 67.5 percent of its scoring and 69 percent of its rebounding.
It also means that some new players might be facing a more comfortable break-in period to their collegiate careers. As of Sunday, Creighton is bringing in four new scholarship players: Toby Hegner, Zach Hanson, Darian Harris and Devin Brooks.
Brooks, a transfer from Iowa Western Community College, will add to the team's backcourt depth. Harris, Hegner and Hanson are incoming freshmen.
Hanson is a 6-foot-9, 240-pound forward from Pierre, S.D., while Hegner is a 6-9, 225-pound forward from Berlin, Wis.
“Doug's return gives Toby Hegner and Zach Hanson a chance to come in and build their bodies,” coach Greg McDermott said. “That's really important because in the Big East, the development of your body is so critical.
“Now, they can come in and do that, learn from the guys that we have coming back and try to compete for playing time. Had Doug left, one of them would have probably been thrown into the fire.”
His son's return also will provide CU flexibility up front. Wragge, a 6-7 senior, and Will Artino, a 6-11 junior who improved greatly as last season progressed, would have likely been Creighton's frontcourt starters had McDermott headed off to the NBA.
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Now, McDermott will likely start at the power forward, or four, spot. Wragge can back up him or Artino, or he could start at the four and allow McDermott to shift to the wing, or No. 3 spot.
Greg McDermott was reluctant to play his son at the three spot when Creighton was in the Missouri Valley because wing players in that league tended to be smaller but quicker. Plus, he had Gibbs to play there the past two seasons.
“Now, we're moving to a league where the wings are a little bigger, so that might make a little more sense than it did before,” Greg McDermott said. “We'll evaluate that as time goes on. He has some things that he wants to add to his game, and from what I've seen, I don't doubt he's going to make that happen.”
Doug McDermott probably will play on the wing at the next level, so playing there next season would give him valuable experience.
Creighton returns starters in the backcourt in shooting guard Manigat and point guard Austin Chatman. Brooks, who played both positions at Iowa Western, is penciled in for assistance at both spots.
Creighton also will return scholarship reserves in wing Avery Dingman, guard Andre Yates and center Geoffrey Groselle and walk-on backups in guard Alex Olsen and Mo Oginni.
Although McDermott's return puts Creighton at its scholarship limit of 13, the Bluejays are still recruiting. Junior-college wing James Milliken, who visited Creighton this month, is expected to announce this week, and the Bluejays reportedly are in the mix along with Texas Christian.
Guard Justin Edwards, who is transferring from Maine and would have to sit out next season, visited Creighton last week.
Creighton could clear room for another recruit by having Greg McDermott pay for his son's educational expenses next season, thus making Doug the most highly decorated walk-on in college basketball history. Another possibility is that a player now on scholarship transfers.
Regardless of how things shake out, Creighton has much work to do even with McDermott's return. The Bluejays' jump to the new Big East will put them in a more competitive environment on a nightly basis.
“We're all going to have to elevate our games,” Greg McDermott said. “As coaches, we have to do a better job. Every guy in the room will have to step up their games if we want to compete at the level we want to in the Big East.”
Still, it doesn't take a basketball genius to know that the Bluejays stand a better chance to be competitive in the new league with No. 3 on the court.
“We have a four-year starter coming back,” Wragge said. “Jahenns and Austin and I know how to play off what he does on the court. That's big.
“That's a big part of the game, and we're obviously in much better shape now than we would have been had he decided to leave.”
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