Demetri McCamey Comes of Age

Illinois fell to the Indiana Hoosiers last night at Assembly Hall 83-79, in double overtime. At this stage of the season, I don't think the Illinois coaching staff is looking for moral victories, but what they got was a vision of a freshman guard coming of age. Read here for more on Demetri McCamey.

Demetri McCamey, a 6-3 PG from St. Joseph's HS in Bellwood, IL, had one of the best freshman performances of any Illini player in years. The last true freshman to have a performance like that was Kiwane Garris, who went off for two 30-plus scoring games in 1993-94. The first came in a triple-overtime loss to Missouri in the Bragging Rights in December 1993 and the second came in a 105-91 home-court win against Iowa the following January. No other true freshman has exceeded the 30-point mark since Garris, until Thursday night.

With three fantastic scoring performances from freshmen guards, including Indiana's backcourt duo of Eric Gordon (19 points) and Jordan Crawford (18 points), clearly the best performance came from Illinois' McCamey. The true freshman entered the game tallying 7.6 points per game, but against the Hoosiers, McCamey scored a career and game high 31 points, going 11-20 from the field, 7-13 from the arc. The Illini point guard also added 6 rebounds and 2 assists.

Attending last night's game was former Illini guard Dee Brown, who may have given McCamey an extra incentive to pick up his game. "Seeing Dee Brown at the game gave me that extra motivation, that's all I needed," said McCamey. The high-scoring former Illini, who averaged 12 ppg in his freshman year in 2002-03, watched as McCamey scored double digits for just the fifth time this season, besting his previous high game (18 points versus Penn State) by 13 points.

What does all this mean for McCamey? What about for the Illini team as a whole for the rest of the season? Well, first, it would be doing a disservice to McCamey to expect these types of numbers every game for the rest of the season. But it did show us that he is more than capable of running this team, that he is not afraid to take the big shot (and make it), and that he is very competitive. No doubt, the more game experience he gets and the more he dedicates himself to working hard in practice and following Bruce Weber's instruction, the better it will be for the team and the future of Illinois basketball.

While Illinois dropped to 10-14 on the season, and 2-9 in Big Ten play, the team keeps fighting and showing a great attitude and effort each night, something the head coach commented on after the game. "I feel bad we can't get a win for the guys right now. They keep fighting and doing the things we ask of them, but the ball is just not bouncing our way right now. We'll keep playing hard," Weber promised.

While Gordon may be a one-and-done player, leaving Indiana after this season to pursue a professional career, McCamey appears to be the type of player that will keep Illini fans cheering for at least three seasons, getting better all the time. And with all the talk of the Class of 2009 guards already committed to Weber and Illinois, McCamey, by then, should have a wealth of experience and enough production to give those youngsters a chance to develop without being rushed into the fire as true freshman starters. Clearly, the learning curve for freshman guards is tough, as McCamey has shown this year. But last night's performance shows he is quickly reaching new heights and is on track for a great future.

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