Doug McDermott came away from competing against National Basketball Association players in Las Vegas feeling as if he hit a jackpot.
The Creighton forward held his own during his three-day stay at the United States national team's minicamp. McDermott and Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart were the only collegiate players among the 30 that participated in the camp at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
The anxiety McDermott carried into the camp was replaced with confidence by the time he headed back to Omaha late Wednesday night.
“I learned I can play at the next level,” McDermott said Thursday. “Those guys are just basketball players. They're just making a little more money than me right now.”
McDermott's performance at the camp could impact his future earning power. ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman reported that one NBA executive said that McDermott “helped himself significantly” with his play at the camp, while another said McDermott was arguably the best shooter in the gym over the first two days.
McDermott said his ability to knock down shots put him at ease early in the workouts.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be out there with future all-stars,” McDermott said. “They've all proven that they're the top 50 players in the NBA, and to get a chance to play against them for a couple of days was pretty cool.
“I'm not going to lie, I was kind of nervous at the start. But once I started playing with them, I got comfortable and I found my groove. Guys recognized that I'm a shooter, and they found me at the right spots.”
Getting exposed to the NBA style of play, McDermott said, will help him as he prepares for his final collegiate season and beyond.
“It's a much different game in the NBA than it is in college,” McDermott said. “It was a nice change of pace. In college, it's all about spacing. In the NBA, you have a little more room to work with.
“It's nice going through something like this because I got an idea what it's going to be like after next season. At the same time, it will allow me to go back to college with a whole lot more confidence.”
McDermott's invitation to the camp came after he had returned from Russia, where he had played for the U.S. team at the World University Games. Smart also had played internationally this summer for the U.S., leading the under-19 national team to a gold medal in the world championships.
McDermott said he and Smart spent a lot of time together, including sharing a seat on the chartered bus that transported the team from its hotel to practice each day.
“The guys called us the rookies, the young ones,” McDermott said, chuckling. “They made us sit together, while they all had their own seat.”
Like McDermott, Smart passed up a chance to turn professional and return to school for another season. Smart was considered a possible top-five pick in the draft, while McDermott was projected as a first-round selection.
McDermott said Smart, too, expressed some uneasiness before the camp started.
“He was in the same boat as I was,” McDermott said. “It was pretty crazy for him, too. He was nervous about having to guard some of the best point guards in the NBA.
“He played well out there. He defended and held his own, and I think that was really comforting to him.”
McDermott had an opportunity to talk to U.S. national team coach Mike Krzyzewski after Wednesday's workout. Krzyzewski's Duke team ended Creighton's 2012-13 season by beating the Bluejays in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
“We didn't talk about the Duke-Creighton game at all,” McDermott said. “Coach K came up to me when we were done and told me that he really appreciated me coming. He told me I needed to take some time off , but he really appreciated that I came out here.”
McDermott aims to take Krzyzewski's advice and shut down his game for 10 days or so. McDermott has been focused on basketball for much of the summer. He left Omaha in late June to begin training for the U.S. team's trip to Russia.
He had been back in Omaha for all of two days when he left again for Las Vegas.
“It's been a short summer, but also a long one,” said McDermott, admitting the grind of the last couple months has left him needing a rest. “It's been a lot of basketball, a lot of practicing.
“But it was all for Team USA. You really can't complain about that. You're working for your country and you're also getting better every step of the way. Each practice, each game is making you a better player, and this is going to be huge for my confidence going into my senior year.”