Demetri McCamey had a tremendous junior year for the Illini. He was one of the nation's leaders in assists and earned the Illini MVP award. He applied for early entry into the NBA and had an opportunity to work out with a couple pro teams. His decision to return to Illinois may have been the boost the team needed to have a special 2010-11 season.
McCamey benefitted from the opportunity to be evaluated by the pros.
"That was a great experience, and I learned a lot that will take over this season...and help me get prepared for the next level as well."
Why did he decide to withdraw his name from the draft?
"We could see how hard it is to get to that level as far as getting in and staying in as well. Coach Weber and I talked about it, and we knew I'd probably make a team. But staying in, what was best for your development and having enough for retirement, we had to make a decision for what was best for you and your family. The best decision was to come back to Illinois and try to win a National Championship."
McCamey was projected to be a second round choice and no guaranteed money. How close did he come to staying in the draft?
"It was 50:50 because you want to go, everybody knows you want to go. But at the same time you want to be smart about the decision. You have to think about your goals and not make a quick decision for quick money. We had to look at it money-wise, school-wise and family-wise."
The Illini are glad he stayed. McCamey is more determined than ever to gain the respect of pro scouts. His first priority was to eat better and get in the best shape possible over the summer. And then he worked on his defense and explosiveness.
"I was running every day doing miles with Jimmy (Price), getting my body in better shape. Playing defense longer and going harder. Hopefully I won't play all the minutes because we have all this talent and a good group of guys to help out a little bit. But this summer I was focused on getting my body tuned up and getting in even better shape than last year."
He isn't the only one who has worked harder. McCamey's fellow seniors Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis and Bill Cole are all at their peak physically and determined to eliminate the bad taste in their mouths from missing last year's NCAA Tournament.
"This is probably the hardest I've seen a group of players who came in together finish by getting stronger and going out with a bang. Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis put on the weight. Bill Cole has been shooting in the summer and didn't take the summer off playing golf and fishing. It was just tremendous. Everybody just wants to go out as winners. Now it's time for repetition in practice and play games."
McCamey now understands a point guard is judged on how many games he wins, not on individual statistics. His senior goals reflect that concept.
"For me, just to win ball games. I don't care about the numbers, it's about wins and trying to get to Final Four week. Get back to the NCAA Tournament is the first goal. It's all about winning, going out with a bang and having fun your senior year. Hopefully you tell your kids how you did your senior year and the success you had."
McCamey also spent time learning about his teammates. A point guard's job is to put his teammates in position to make plays.
"I know everybody's hot spots and where they like the ball. That's the job of a point guard. I've got that for this year's team down pat."
"The freshmen are real talented, but the best thing I like about them is they're coachable. They listen, and they're willing to learn."
There is no question optimism is high this time of year. There is a long way to go and many difficult games before goals can be reached. To be successful, the Illini need to have good chemistry where everyone cares more about the team than individual rewards. McCamey is excited about the possibilities.
"Just playing with the guys over the summer, you get a good feeling. We've got awhile to get adjusted, but as of right now we're a family. It's gonna be great. This is probably the best family atmosphere we've had as a team since I've been here."