Overcomer

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Overcoming obstacles along the way, former Pendleton Heights and Butler University basketball star Sean McDermott has hopes of playing professionally. Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

PENDLETON — This isn’t the first time Sean McDermott has had to deal with adversity.

You might say he knows all too well how to handle tough times.

It’s been one after another for the basketball star who followed his Indiana All-Star hoops career as a Pendleton Heights Arabian to play big-time college basketball as a Butler Bulldog.

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His college career, like so many others, ended prematurely due to the coronavirus pandemic. The virus has now put a halt on his professional basketball dreams.

There have been no workouts for NBA clubs and no NBA Summer League. There have even been rumors about the future of the NBA G-League. Playing basketball overseas could be an option.

“I’m playing the waiting game right now to see what comes next,” McDermott said.

Whatever comes next, you can bet he will be able to handle it.

He’s had so much already thrown at him at a young age.

As a junior in high school, he nearly died from a staph infection. He broke his hand and missed his freshman season at Butler. When he got on the floor as a redshirt freshman, he also had the health of his mother, Kim McDermott, on his mind. She was battling cancer that year — thankfully, she has now been cancer-free for more than three years.

Right before his final season at Butler, he lost a grandfather — his mother’s dad, Alan Darner, a long-time successful Indiana high school basketball coach. Darner was 72 and died suddenly of an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Sean was very close to his grandfather, one of his mentors on the basketball court.

Carrying a heavy heart, McDermott, along with his fellow Bulldogs, were having a great year. After struggling during the 2018-19 campaign, Butler was ranked as high as No. 5 in the nation this past season.

They were playing in the Big East conference tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City when the season was canceled on March 12. Butler would have been a sure bet to make the NCAA tournament and earn a high seed with the expectations to make a run at a national title.

“I push forward believing everything will work out how it is supposed to,” Sean said.

“He has great faith and belief that there is always a bigger plan,” Kim McDermott said. “He’s tough-minded, very hard-working. He’s able to work his way through a lot of things.”

A strong faith has helped get him through, but those times still were very difficult.

“I never questioned, ‘Why me?’,” he said. “But, as a competitor you question ‘Why is this happening right now?’”

Focus was admittedly tough, as both his mom’s illness and grandfather’s death happened during or right before his basketball season.

“It was hard when I was sick, but when it is happening to you personally you know how to handle it,” Sean said. “The toughest thing was the loss of my grandpa.

“Leading up to high school him and mom were my two biggest influences for my basketball career. They would push me. My grandpa would come back from Florida to coach our AAU team. The sacrifice they made for me is unreal and the knowledge they both had.”

However, all the McDermotts knew early that Sean could battle through adversity.

He had to as a junior dealing with a serious staph infection.

“The first night he was in Riley Hospital, we didn’t know if he would make it through the night,” Kim McDermott said.

The infection had taken all his energy. He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t move.

Kim said that before the doctors were able to diagnose the infection, “(Sean) was praying to die, because he couldn’t live in that amount of pain.”

He made it through and got on the basketball court later that year. His high school coach, Brian Hahn, said Sean was 6-4 and weighed about 175 pounds before he got sick. When he returned to the court that year, he was roughly 150 pounds.

He was on minute restrictions when he entered the game against Pike High School that year.

“What epitomizes him is that first game back his junior year after being sick,” Hahn recalled. “He was as sick as you can be. He was walking with a walker.

“It was the first game back after Christmas break against Pike. He comes in the game and hits four 3-pointers in the first half. He could barely get the ball to the rim. He showed the great internal drive and strength he has.”

Hahn has been another great basketball and life influence for Sean.

The pair work out a couple of days a week.

“Sean just has a really strong will. He gets that from his parents. He has that will to keep on going when things get hard. It’s a characteristic that was ingrained in him at a young age,” Hahn said.

Through it all he’s matured as a basketball player, too. Initially known as a sharp-shooter, 3-point specialist, McDermott’s game has grown during his time at Butler.

McDermott, now listed as 6-6 and 195 pounds, finished 10th in the Big East in rebounding (6.3 per game) and 13th in field-goal percentage (47.4%). He averaged 11.7 points per game and just missed out on 1,000 points for his career, finishing with 977.

He had the first three double-doubles (double figures in points and rebounds) of his career. He also led the Bulldogs in 3-pointers (65), free-throw percentage (86.8) and minutes per game (32.9).

“His grandfather would love to have seen how Butler came back this year and how Sean worked to be more than just a shooter,” Kim said. “He would’ve really enjoyed this season.”

Sean has quite a list of accomplishments, but he knows there is still hard work — and likely obstacles — ahead, as he pursues a professional basketball career.

“I want to stay active and stay strong,” McDermott said of his plan during these uncertain times. “I want to be ready to compete with some very talented guys.

“I want to be strong, ready for anything.”