Despite early setbacks, Demetri McCamey is ready to lead Illinois to success.
by Quinn Peterson / @QwinFNP
The Illinois high school Class of 2007 was considered one of the best.
Remembering the damage that Derrick Rose did three years ago, and the phenomenal run Evan Turner put together last season, it is now time for Demetri McCamey — who teamed with Turner at St. Joseph’s High School in Illinois — to represent.
Coming off a quality junior season in which he earned First-Team All-Big Ten honors, leading his team in scoring and assists (his 7.1 dimes per game ranked second in the country), McCamey (who friends and fans call Meechi) and the Fighting Illini entered the ‘10-11 season with steep expectations.
Those expectations surely wouldn’t be so high had McCamey opted to make the jump to the League. After his junior season, McCamey entered his name in the NBA Draft before withdrawing in April.
“With Demetri, it’s just continue to be a more consistent shooter,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said at the time. “Especially when he’s tired he has a tendency not to use his legs as much as he should. He lost quite a bit of weight this year, and we’ve talked about him losing some more and becoming more athletic and explosive.”
This year, a pre-season Wooden Award candidate, McCamey has worked to do his part in validating his nomination, and continuing to move up the lottery draft board. Heeding the advice, he’s again leading his squad in points (15.7) and assists (7.1), averaging personal career-high numbers in the process.
It’s how he’s been doing it, though, that makes it so most impressive. In addition to career-best averages, have been career-best percentages. Shooting just a touch under 50 percent from the field (49.7) and from three (49.2), he’s also managing an assists-to-turnover ratio of almost 3-to-1 with 92 ASTs to combat 34 TOs.
“I got in better shape by running up hills and shooting 1,000 shots a day,” said McCamey. “Just going in and taking shots and making them at the same time.”
“As a point guard, not turning the ball over, you’re making the best of your possessions in trying to feed your teammates and get them the best shot,” he said. “This year, slowing down helped me see the game so much easier and pick my spots: when to score or when to set up a teammate for an open jumpshot or an easy layup. [I'm] just slowing down and reading the defense better than I did the first couple years.”
McCamey credits talks with Deron Williams — who also played at Illinois under Bruce Weber and who Meechi draws numerous comparisons to — as another reason for his improved game and efficient senior season.
Slowing down and being under control have been key points. Williams has also talked about “taking quick shots. I was trying to hurry up and get a shot off because I got double-teamed a lot. He just told me to play smarter and use the system and slow it down.”
“Excelling in the the system, it will help me out numbers-wise, stat-wise, and help me become a better player, so that’s what I’m trying to do this year.”
“He’s like a big brother. As soon as I got on campus, even though he was playing for the Jazz, he came back in the summertime and showed me things each and every year. He showed me how pros do things and he’s a pretty good one so it’s easy to follow his lead,” McCamey said.
The obvious similarity between McCamey and Williams is their size. The two are nearly identical. McCamey, at 6-3, 200 pounds; Williams currently listed at 6-3, 209. Both are part of the new breed of point guards, roaming the NBA especially — the Big Guard. Williams, Russell Westbrook, Tyreke Evans and others have made the big guard the new “it” thing in the League and McCamey is looking like the next in line.
“Most definitely [being a bigger guard has given me some advantages]. We’ve got a couple plays where I’m posting up smaller guards and doing some things off the block. It’s definitely an advantage to have on offense, being a bigger guard, making them pay drawing fouls and contact. Being big and my height helps out a lot — especially being a point guard — with seeing the floor.”
While a fourth-year senior has become a growing novelty in college basketball — particularly in major Division I programs — the benefits of the experience remain the same, no doubt. Benefits that McCamey is definitely reaping. Instead of jumping the gun to make the jump, Meechi has been patient, doing it the old-fashioned way.
“I just think I’m more mature. It’s helped me out — being a senior — not on the court, but off the court, watching film and being a student of the game. My freshman year and sophomore year I was going out and playing and trying to be the best on the court, just making plays, but now it’s more watching film.
“It’s just stepping up, being a leader as a senior,” he added. “Trying to lead your troops and trying to win a championship. I think just talking to Deron [Williams] this summer helped a lot as far as just being patient and taking good shots and making them.”
Though the saying states that “numbers don’t lie,” the intangible leadership quality is as valued as ever. Point guards and seniors are expected to possess it, but it’s certainly not always the case in either situation. For McCamey, it is something he continues to battle to master.
After a recent loss to in-state rival UIC, McCamey said he called a team meeting, giving seniors a chance to talk to the team, agree and disagree, about the game, coaching staff, the team, etc.
“We were sky-high,” he said of the Illini, who entered the December 18 game on a seven-game winning streak.
Playing so well, the team got complacent, something McCamey agreed with and Weber acknowledged in the game’s press conference.
“That’s my fault as a leader for letting it get to that point,” said McCamey.
As he continues to grow as a leader, run his team, distribute the ball, put points on the board, and, ultimately, increase his draft stock, his Illinois legacy remains a top priority.
“It means a lot, just knowing all the great players that came through the program: Dee Brown, Deron Williams, Derek Harper, Steve Bardo, players that were successful in their career.
“Growing up it’s always been my dream school. I’ve been watching them since I was little, the Flying Illini. It’s just tremendous to come here. Not only basketball, but getting my degree in May is also tremendous and one of the things that my mom will be proud of that will help out in my future.”