Illinois’ McCamey has great expectations
ROSEMONT, Ill. – Demetri McCamey has always been surrounded by greatness.
From his cousin Jacob Pullen, to his high school teammate Evan Turner, to his Chicago prep contemporary Derrick Rose, the best in basketball have never been more than a glance away.
“Growing up with great players, playing the game with great players helps you get to the elite level,” McCamey said Thursday at Big Ten basketball media day.
Entering his senior season as Illinois’ point guard, McCamey doesn’t have to look far to find more majesty. It stares back at him when he looks in the mirror.
“I want to be the national player of the year,” McCamey said, the intensity rising in his voice. “That’s one of my goals for the season.”
To do so, the 6-foot-3 standout will first have to help his teammates outduel the likes of Michigan State and Kalin Lucas, Purdue and E’Twaun Moore. He’ll have to play better than Duke’s Kyle Singler and Kansas State’s Pullen.
Still, he knows his greatest competition might come from that looking glass.
“It goes to me being the point guard, the coach on the floor,” McCamey said. “If I’m consistent, the team will play consistent.
“I looked at that this summer and told myself I have to go night in and night out. I have to be the same player and dominate.
“It’s not just about scoring points or getting assists. It’s helping your teammates out, getting them in the right positions and being there for them.”
On a regular basis.
No one has ever doubted McCamey’s ability on the court. He came to Champaign rated a four-star recruit by Rivals.com. He led the Big Ten in assists last season and was second nationally. He was a first-team all-conference selection in 2009-10.
He had some monster games as a junior, leading the Illini in scoring. He dropped 27 points on Wisconsin in a huge victory at Madison. He piled up 22 points and 11 assists in an upset of Michigan State.
And then came the head scratchers.
A six-point effort in a damning loss to Purdue in February. … Nine points in a home loss to Minnesota two games later that sent Illinois’ NCAA hopes reeling.
Consistency? More like chaos.
The wavering play caused scouts to question his NBA draft stock last summer. He withdrew his name from consideration in May.
“[The scouts] backed up what I told him,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “Be consistent. Play both ends of the court. He had some of the best games in the country last year. But then he had games where he was just OK. He is too good of a player to have that happen.”
So McCamey is back at Illinois, driven to deliver the Illini to a Big Ten championship, a deep NCAA tournament run, and, in turn, show everyone how good he can be … every day.
“I feel like this year is the right time,” he said. “I had a chance last year to get my feet wet and experience what the NBA was like. I think I made the best decision coming back and trying to win championships. Once you win, everything else takes care of itself.
“Right now all the seniors are talking about legacy. We haven’t won anything since we’ve been here. This is the last go-round. Why not have a championship to show your kids in the future?”
This season’s Illini will be a mix of experience (McCamey, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale are seniors) and talented newcomers (freshmen Jereme Richmond, Crandall Head and Meyers Leonard). McCamey must set the tone, stir the drink.
His journey to bring home individual and team accolades begins Nov. 8 when the Illini open the season against UC-Irvine.
It will continue through the grueling Big Ten gauntlet – the toughest conference in the country – in January, February and March. There will be duels with Lucas, with Purdue’s bevy of talented guards.
Should he emerge as a steady hand, the Illini just might steal that conference crown. A March to remember could be in the offing. That national player of the year honor could be had.
“If he is going to be national player of the year, we have to win,” Weber said. “I think he realizes that. I ask our players, ‘do you want to be all-conference or win the conference?’ Who makes all-conference? The guys who win the conference.
“As a point guard, he can dominate the game and not have to score. He can be the top assist guy in the country and help us win. Then he’ll have a chance at honors like that.”
The player of the year plaque would allow McCamey to stand shoulder to shoulder with his high-achieving Chicago friends and family at the game’s highest level, playing for pay in the association.
Now that would be great.