PENDLETON — Sean McDermott’s long roller-coaster journey has got him the opportunity he’d been striving for.
After the Nov. 18 NBA draft the former Pendleton Heights and Butler University basketball star was one of two undrafted rookies to be added to the Memphis Grizzlies roster.
McDermott and former Gonzaga forward Killian Tillie were signed by the NBA Western Conference club to two-way contracts. The two-way agreement, for undrafted players, splits time with the organization’s G-League and NBA teams, with a maximum of 45 days on an NBA roster.
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The Grizzlies and their G-League team both play in Memphis. The G-League team is called the Memphis Hustle.
“It’s really cool. As a kid, every basketball player dreams of an opportunity like this,” McDermott said. “For me, the work is far from finished. I’m not content with being on a two-way contract. I want to go out and improve, get stronger, build my game. I want to stick in the league and be a guy that affects winning for this organization.
“I don’t just want to be a guy that’s content with saying I put the uniform on. I want to accomplish more than that.”
A 6-foot-6 forward, McDermott has had quite a basketball ride going back with his time with the Arabians.
As a junior, he nearly died from a staph infection. He came back and was named an Indiana All-Star after an outstanding year with Pendleton Heights, averaging 16.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game.
He dealt with a broken hand that forced him to miss his freshman year with the Bulldogs. When he returned he had the health of his mother, Kim McDermott, on his mind. She had been diagnosed with cancer. Thankfully, she has been cancer-free for more than three years.
Prior to his final season at Butler, McDermott lost his grandfather, Alan Darner, the longtime successful Indiana high school basketball coach died suddenly of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He was 72 and a great mentor to Sean and his basketball career.
With the reputation as a 3-point sharp-shooter, McDermott’s game grew while at Butler. In his final year with the Bulldogs, he 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).
The COVID-19 pandemic kept McDermott and the Bulldogs from playing in the NCAA tournament; it also put a freeze on traveling to work out with NBA clubs. There wasn’t an NBA Summer League, so he wasn’t sure what kind of opportunities would be available.
He thought that he would end up playing overseas, but opportunities fell through. He told his agent he felt confident in his game and decided to stay in the states to see if someone would give him a chance.
McDermott said he had 18 virtual interviews with NBA clubs, but the Grizzlies were the only organization to come to Indiana to watch his workout. It occurred a couple of weeks prior to the draft.
“It was my first and only workout with a team, so it was a little nerve-racking, I got an opportunity to talk with them. They got to know me a little bit better, and I got to know them a little bit better,” McDermott said. “It’s basketball, so once I stepped on the court everything feels kind of natural, and the nerves go away. It was a couple hours I got to spend with them. I tried to show them I could shoot the ball a little bit and get to know them and they could get to know me.”
McDermott said his agent had told him the deal was going to happen. After the draft, he got a call from Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins and the club’s vice president of basketball operations, Zach Kleiman.
“They let me know they were excited to have me, and I relayed how thankful I was for the opportunity and how excited I was to be a part of the organization,” McDermott said.
McDermott said preseason camp will start soon. Exhibition games are slated to begin on Dec. 11 with the NBA regular-season beginning on Dec. 22.
So, it’ll be a quick turnaround on learning the ways of his new team and playing in the top basketball league in the world.
“I’m very excited to get the opportunity. It is a dream come true,” McDermott added. “I’m thankful that God put me in this position. I know that my life is about a lot more than basketball and in the position I am in for a greater purpose than to shoot a ball in a hoop. That’s kind of my realization and I’m going to keep working hard. Of course, the excitement is definitely there to reach this level and to be playing basketball at the highest level. I am over-filled with gratitude and excitement.”