McCamey Return Sparks Illini Optimism

Fighting Illini basketball coaches and fans held their collective breaths, waiting to see whether star point guard Demetri McCamey would return for his senior year or remain in the NBA draft. He chose to return, and he is now on a quest to become the best player he can be and help the Illini win big. After all, that's what good point guards do.

Demetri McCamey said all the right things on meeting the media after deciding to withdraw his name from the 2010 NBA draft. He seemed upbeat and determined to make improvements in his game and help Illinois make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament next year. For him, putting his name in the NBA draft and getting a workout with Houston was an ideal decision.

"I decided to come back. It was like a win-win situation for me. I played it perfectly, got the workouts and learned the things I need to do. They showed me a lot of drills to work on.

"It was tremendous. I had a solid workout, and it came down to a decision between me, my coaches, my mom and what is best for my future. I think another year of improving and getting better by coming to college will benefit me more than getting picked second round and sitting on the bench.

"It wasn't a disappointment. I feel it was definitely a win-win situation. Either I was gonna leave this year, play in the NBA and help my family financially, or I was gonna come back to Illinois and win a National Championship and try to do big things like that at the college level."

Regardless, it was not an easy decision.

"It was real tough. You hear second round, and people picked on the second round have been staying with teams lately. But there's no guarantee. I feel like, if I could go back to college and get better, hopefully I'll be a first rounder and try to make it to a lottery pick. That's way more money than you'd get in the second round.

"You've got to make the best decision for you and your family. I'm not money-hungry or anything like that, so I might as well come back to college and try to win a National Championship."

McCamey received excellent feedback. Even though his coach Bruce Weber had already shared similar sentiments, hearing it from NBA experts helped hammer the points home.

"The number one thing everyone said, even Coach Weber said, is getting in even better shape because the NBA is not just 20 minute halves. It's 12 minute quarters. You've got to be in shape for a good 50 minutes. So getting in better shape and improving in all areas, especially on the defensive end, and bringing intensity all 40 minutes.

"It's being able to play for longer stretches. I played a lot of minutes this year I believe, but it's just getting in tip-top shape because the next level is a whole other game. You've got to get your body ready or you won't produce."

McCamey has at times rested on the defensive end to be at his best for offense. Being in top shape means extending yourself defensively at all times as well.

"Most definitely. The first question they asked was, 'Who can you guard?' They don't really care if you can put the ball in the basket. They've got guys like LeBron (James) and Carmelo (Anthony) that can score. They're looking for good character and somebody that can defend.

"I've just got to do it all the time rather than in spurts. Try to become a lockdown defender or just being real solid and try to help my team win. It's intensity. Sometimes I play defense and have no emotion, so people say I'm not playing defense. I think getting in better condition and doing the things I'm supposed to do, I'll be fine."

He benefitted in other ways as well from his experiences with the NBA.

"One thing I got out of this experience is a point guard is judged off wins. It don't matter how good your numbers are, as long as your team wins. If you get to a Final Four or help your team win, you always get a look from NBA teams because they look at point guards for leadership and winning.

"Personally, it made me even more hungry, knowing you have to get better. It makes you want to go out and have a productive summer and do the little things that help you become a great player. I might as well do it here rather than going to the NBA and rushing things and end up finding yourself overseas or in a development league."

Weber has guided McCamey through this process, just as he has throughout his career. Going through this experience has helped McCamey appreciate his coach even more.

"Most definitely. When you hear it from them, and you find out they're close friends and rely on him to get good information to produce kids and try to help them get to the next level, it means so much more. You're just glad to have Coach Weber on my side. He's a tremendous coach with a lot of good connections."

He says the so-called rift between him and Weber has been greatly exaggerated by the media.

"I always had trust in Coach Weber, my AAU coach and my family. I think the media sometimes tries to blow it up. But it's all love. It's just two winners trying to win."

All this is music to Weber's ears. He wanted to help his star fulfill his dream, but he also understood the negative ramifications for his upcoming team to lose its point guard.

"Selfishly, you always want your guys back. I wish we had Deron (Williams) back. But as a coach, it's part of today's college game. You understand that. But also as a coach that's been through it with many players, I want to not only make sure they have an opportunity to go into the league, but more important stay in the league.

"The average career is not very long in the NBA. People see that they have an opportunity to get in there, but it's more being ready when you get the opportunity to stay in the league. That's the thing I talk to all the guys about, to see the big picture.

"Deron and Luther (Head) are the only two who have made their pension and are over the average of 2.3 or whatever the average career is. We had some pretty good players with Dee (Brown), James (Augustine) and Roger (Powell) that didn't make it to that point.

You hope this experience helps these guys (McCamey and teammate Mike Davis), and they make a commitment over the next year to be ready when they have that window next year.

Weber was especially concerned about losing McCamey because he has no backup point guard with experience on scholarship.

"You're concerned, there's no doubt. With Demetri, you just never know what decision would be made. In his case, we don't have great depth at the point guard, so it was something you had to worry about and address. I addressed it with our coaches back in late January, early February. We had to start thinking about who else could play point.

"With Demetri, if he wasn't going to class, if he wasn't doing what he was supposed to, then I would have been worried. I think he was pretty grounded, pretty mature. He's come a long, long way in his three years, and he's stayed focused. He got back Friday night, and he knew he had to study for an exam Monday.

"More than anything, we don't have to scramble and find a point guard. That would be the biggest thing that happened with it."

Now Weber can plan for the future. All five starters return, four talented freshmen will be much better as sophomores, and three outstanding newcomers will add a degree of depth and competitiveness rarely seen on the UI campus.

"Demetri's back, and it give us some veteran guys. We have some seniors, which is important. Not only seniors, but seniors who are major minute guys. I think the big thing though is what they do the next four months. All our guys, our seniors included.

"We have to take a big step up so we can compete for a Big 10 Championship and go deep into March. That's got to be the biggest goal for all those guys."

That is certainly McCamey's idea, despite the strength of the Big 10 Conference.

"I think we'll be right up there. I think we should be number one, but my opinion don't really mean anything. That's not the point. As long as we come out and compete, we have the seniors, we have the leadership, and we have the young guys to go with it to help boost the seniors.

"So with productive summers and everybody buying in and sharing the basketball, I think we'll be right up there contending for a National Championship or a Big 10 Championship."

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