OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Creighton coach Greg McDermott’s high-risk decision to bring in Marcus Foster as a transfer three years ago turned out to be highly rewarding for all involved.
The Bluejays (21-9, 10-7) for the second straight year are heading toward a top-three Big East finish and the NCAA Tournament. Their two-year run has been fueled by Foster, known alternately as a prolific scorer and mercurial bad boy in his past life at Kansas State.
“Oh, it’s been a wild ride with a lot of ups and downs,” Foster said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday. “I’m happy for everything I went through. It made me the man I am today.”
Foster picked K-State over Creighton when he was coming out of high school in Wichita Falls, Texas, in 2013. When McDermott asked his friend and K-State coach Bruce Weber whether he should make a run at Foster after Weber dismissed him in March 2015, he was advised to stay away and save himself the headaches.
McDermott took Foster anyway.
“Marcus is one of the more interesting stories of my coaching career,” said McDermott, a head coach for 24 years. “Had I not known him and his family since he was 15 or 16, I probably don’t take the chance. There were too many red flags. But it was a meeting with his mom and having her look at me and say, ‘I want my son back. Can you get my son back?’ With her help, we were able to do it.”
Foster was the Big East’s second-leading scorer and unanimous all-conference selection last season. He likely will be a first-team pick again when postseason awards are announced next week. His scoring average has gone from 18.7 points per game last year to 20.0 entering the final regular-season game at Marquette on Saturday.
He’s scored 20 or more in nine of his last 11 league games, and Oklahoma’s Trae Young (23) and Butler’s Kelan Martin (18) are the only major conference players with more than Foster’s 16 games of 20-plus points.
“This is the best I’ve ever played,” Foster said. “It’s the smartest I’ve ever played. The game is coming easier to me. I’m figuring out what spots to get to on the court, when to get my teammates involved and how to get myself going even when I’m not shooting the ball well.”
Scoring has never been a problem for Foster. In 2013-14, he went for 25 points in his second college game and was on his way to earning All-Big 12 second-team honors and leading K-State to the NCAA Tournament.
He told reporters after his freshman season that he had plans to lead the Wildcats to a conference title the next year. But he didn’t walk the big talk. He played selfishly and started hanging out with the wrong crowd. He got benched, then got suspended for a violation of team rules and ultimately was sent packing.
“I got away from who I was,” Foster said. “I was worried more about going out than about being in the gym. I was very uncoachable at that time. My first year, I was so locked in and doing good. After that, people expected me to do so much better. I started getting a big head and not listening to my coaches. Our relationship got messed up. We parted ways for the better.”
And then along came McDermott to give him a second chance, something for which Foster says he’s eternally grateful.
Foster had to sit out 2015-16 at Creighton because of transfer rules. He got his academic life in order and went through rigorous workouts on top of practicing with the team.
He said he’s grown up in every way imaginable. His longtime girlfriend, Chelsea Ghasemi, gave birth to their daughter Jazmine this past offseason. He’ll graduate in May with a degree in criminal justice. A pro career, be it in the NBA or overseas, is likely.
McDermott said Foster has never given him a reason to regret his decision to bring him to Creighton.
“There were some bumpy roads even last year, but this year there’s been nothing,” McDermott said. “He’s gone to class, he’s been on time, he’s been an incredible leader.
“I’m extremely proud of Marcus and proud of the person, the leader and the father he’s become. The skills he’s learned and the changes he’s made are going to impact him long past the game of basketball. It’s a pretty cool story. Doesn’t always end that way. This one certainly had a happy ending.”
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