University of Utah guard Josi McDermott lined up for a three-point shot and let it fly during a practice session here Saturday prior to the first round of the NCAA tournament.
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — University of Utah guard Josi McDermott lined up for a 3-point shot and let it fly during a practice session here Saturday prior to the first round of the NCAA tournament.
"Good job, Josi" shouted Anthony Levrets, an assistant for the Utah Utes.
McDermott, a 2007 Ashland High graduate, and Levrets were nearly 3,000 miles from their Oregon roots this weekend.
But that was hardly a concern for them. Levrets is a native of Eugene and a former hoop assistant under McDermott's father, Brian, at Southern Oregon University.
McDermott came off the bench and had four rebounds and no points in 18 minutes Sunday as No. 9 seed Utah beat No. 8 seed Villanova, 60-30, in the first round of the NCAA women's tournament.
While Utah had just a few dozen fans on hand, the stands were nearly full in the second half as Maryland fans arrived.
"I blocked the crowd out," said McDermott, standing outside the Utes locker room after the game.
Utah will face No. 1 seed Maryland, an 82-53 winner of Dartmouth on Sunday, in the second round here Tuesday. A crowd of more than 10,000 fans watched the Terps beat Dartmouth in the second game.
"We have won other games where the advantage was not ours, so we will try to draw on that," Utah head coach Elaine Elliott said Sunday.
Levrets said he is amazed McDermott, a redshirt freshman, is playing after she suffered back problems as an Ashland High senior. "The fact she is playing is a miracle," he said.
"She can shoot the basketball."
"I thought she would never play for us because she had back surgery last year," Utah head coach Elliott told reporters after McDermott had a big 3-pointer to help beat New Mexico in the conference semifinals earlier this month.
Her father, Brian, and brother, Josh, attended Sunday's game and plan to stay for the game on Tuesday against Maryland. Brian McDermott just finished his 13th season as the head men's basketball coach at Southern Oregon. Josh was a senior on the team this season and averaged 8.0 points per game with 22 starts.
Josi McDermott started having back problems in the second half of her senior year, her father said during Sunday's game. She had surgery for the first time in December of 2007, then had a second surgery in October of 2008.
What was it like to be in the NCAA tourney after watching last year?
"It is really surreal," McDermott said. "I am really excited to be here."
McDermott and her teammates visited the U.S. Capitol in Washington Friday and then went to a sports bar to watch the Utah men lose in the NCAA tourney to Arizona. McDermott said she had never been further east than Indiana, where Utah lost to host Purdue in the first round of the NCAA tourney last season.
Utah won the Mountain West Conference tournament championship March 14 against San Diego State and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
McDermott was a redshirt during the 2007-08 season. She did not play any games but did get to attend the conference tourney and the NCAA tourney.
The Ashland resident was a four-year letterwinner in high school and was a second-team all-State player. She played in the Oregon-Washington All-Star game and helped her team win the conference title in 2007.
"She is a promising young wing player with a great basketball IQ," Elliott said prior to this season.
McDermott played in 16 games (no starts) prior to the NCAA tourney and averaged 6.6 minutes and 1.1 points per game.
She played in the first game of her college career on Jan. 2 against Norfolk State. Her first point came on a free throw against Colorado State on Jan. 17, in a game in which she had three points.
She had scored just 11 points in 14 games prior to a conference tourney game against New Mexico, when she made two of four shots from the field (including 2 of 3 from 3-point range) and finished with six points off the bench in 11 minutes as the Utes won, 56-55.
"It was a lot of fun," McDermott said of her contribution in that game. "I never knew what to expect because I am a role player."
Utah beat San Diego State the next day, 63-58, as McDermott played five minutes with no points off the bench.
Prior to the NCAA tourney she had a better shooting percentage from 3-point range (67) than from the foul line (25). So what is the deal with that?
"I don't know," she said, with a smile. "I am a freshman. I guess that is it. I am a freshman."
Levrets, the Utah assistant coach who grew up in Bandon, was an assistant from 2002-07 at Southern Oregon. He is now in his second season with Utah.
He is married to Sarah Levrets, who is from Springfield, Oregon, played at Washington State and is now in her first season as the director of basketball operation for Utah. McDermott was part of the wedding party when the couple was married.
Editor's note: David Driver is a freelance writer from Maryland. He can be reached through his website at www.davidsdriver.com