Illinois Basketball Summer School: Senior Guard Demetri McCamey, Part I

Here’s my first take at the Illinois Basketball Summer School series, where I revisit the individual performances of Illinois’ 7 returning players from last season and offer my commentary/analysis on where they need to improve heading into the 2010-2011 season.

Originally, I planned to do this in two sections, but have since decided to break it into three parts.

The first part will recap last season, including statistics and honors, highlight the best and worst moment of the season, and then provide a summer update on that Illini player.

Part two will include a game-by-game breakdown of the player’s performance while part three will detail areas of improvement and predictions for next season.

With that said, let’s begin with senior guard Demetri McCamey, who had a great junior year and was undoubtedly Illinois’ best player last season.

Recapping McCamey’s Junior Season

With Chester Frazier having graduated after the 2008-2009 season, McCamey took over at the point guard, a position that he did not look well-suited for after Frazier was injured late in the previous year and couldn’t play during respective blowouts to Purdue and Western Kentucky in the Big Ten Tournament Semifinals and first round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament.

What looked like a question mark (how McCamey would handle the point guard) turned out to be Illinois’ greatest strength last season as McCamey was clearly Illinois’ best and most consistent player on the court, getting to a point late in the season when he accounted for nearly all of the Illinois offense (whether scoring or assisting) and couldn’t leave the floor if the Illini wanted to have any chance of competing.

While not a natural point guard, McCamey made great strides in his junior season, growing up from a player who was inconsistent and resistant to coaching to one who was much better in his overall approach to and impact on the game well beyond shooting and scoring the basketball.

McCamey’s encouraging transformation began after the 2009 season, when he really worked hard on his body, cutting down his baby fat, getting in the best shape of his career, and regaining some explosiveness when attacking the goal. During his junior season, McCamey was a much more dangerous player when going to the rim as opposed to one who had numerous fast-break layup attempts blocked from behind during his sophomore campaign.

Early in the 2009-2010 season, McCamey would learn the ropes at point guard while struggling with turnovers and foul trouble. However, during a 23-point comeback victory at Clemson, McCamey began to show that he was starting to understand the importance of playing smart and under control as he stayed on the court with 4 fouls in the game’s final 10 minutes. Without McCamey against Clemson’s full-court pressure, the Illini were lost. With him, the team was much more composed, effective and competitive.

While Illinois Head Coach Bruce Weber would practice tough love with McCamey (benching him for the 2nd and 3rd Big Ten games against Iowa and at Indiana) as Illinois remained up and down as a team, the junior continued to show his maturity, refusing to pout, getting better at distributing the ball and cutting down his turnovers, and not losing the confidence to take and make big shots.

Early in the Big Ten season, McCamey’s clutch shooting late in games would be key to Illinois holding serve at home against Penn State and Indiana, with his last-second buzzer-beater knocking off the Hoosiers.

Despite having some moments marked by poor decision making, questionable shot selection and  lackadaisical play, and struggling again on the defensive end, McCamey was becoming a far more consistent, all-around player (at least offensively), as evidenced by a stretch in February where his brilliant, controlled and determined play keyed upsets over Michigan State and Wisconsin.

As Illinois struggled with a brutal Big Ten schedule down the stretch, it typically wasn’t because of McCamey, who was logging nearly 40 minutes a game and having to do almost everything at times for the Illini even to stay close. An early March loss against Ohio State, when the Buckeyes went on a 12-0 game-changing run in the first half as McCamey briefly sat with two fouls, was a great example of his importance on the court.

The immense pressure and load on McCamey came to a head against Wisconsin during the Big Ten regular season finale, when the junior point guard tried to walk through Weber while going to the bench after committing an intentional foul. Weber would publicly scold McCamey for that lack of respect, and unfortunately, that incident would garner a lot headlines and become an easy moment for analysts to point to when describing an erratic Illini team that was clearly on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

While certainly a bad decision by McCamey, the incident was a bit overblown. McCamey may have looked like he had an attitude problem on that isolated incident, but he was hardly the problem with the 2009-2010 Illini. Considering how much McCamey grew up during his junior season and how much he had to do for the Illini to be successful, it’s a bit surprising that such an episode was avoided much earlier in a very frustrating season, not making it any more excusable.

Once again, to McCamey’s credit, he bounced back in the Big Ten Tournament, controlling the tempo masterfully as Illinois knocked off Wisconsin in the Big Ten Quarterfinals to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive and then responding with a gutsy effort during a double-overtime loss to Ohio State. A day after the Ohio State classic, Illinois would watch from home as it was left out of the NCAA Tournament.

In 2 out of Illinois’ 3 NIT games, McCamey nearly missed triple doubles even when he wasn’t playing his sharpest ball. The resounding, season-ending loss to Dayton was a perfect example of how overtaxed McCamey was in 2009-2010 with Illinois lacking an adequate back-up ball handler.

For a player who left questions of whether he was ever going to get it following his first 2 seasons, McCamey took a big leap forward as a junior, emerging as more of a leader, becoming extremely serious about the game and playing like not only a Big Ten first-team player but an All-American at times.

With that said, McCamey is still rough around the edges as a point guard (he needs to learn the importance of controlling the game from start to finish, bringing it for 40 minutes, and doing a better job of leading his teammates by example) and is way behind the curve defensively if he wants to play in the NBA.

Next season is about McCamey leading Illinois on the court to be a much more consistent and focused team and getting the Illini back to the NCAA Tournament. With team success will hopefully come more personal success and recognition for McCamey, who currently looks like a second rounder in the 2011 NBA Draft but could improve his stock with continued growth in his last season.

Stats/Accomplishments

First-team Big Ten selection by the coaches and media.

Voted Team MVP and Co-Captain.

Averaged 15.1 points (on 45.4% from the field, 34.1% from three, and 70.7% from the free throw line), 7.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 3.4 turnovers and 1.5 steals per game.

His 7.1 assists per game led the Big Ten and were second in the nation. They also were a school record for a season.

Led the Illini in scoring at 15.1 points per game (a 3.6 point-per-game jump from his sophomore season) and was 10th in the conference in scoring.

Scored his 1,000th career point against Indiana on January 30th.

Had 10 games of 20 or more points.

Led the Illini in scoring a team-high 17 times last season.

Started 34 of 36 games.

Season Highlight

McCamey certainly had his fair share of individual highlights during his junior campaign (a game-winning buzzer beater against Indiana, 16 assists at Purdue, a near triple double in the first round NIT game, etc.), but his greatest highlight had to be his play during the course of five days in February. With ESPN’s GameDay at the Assembly Hall on February 6th, McCamey led the Illini to an upset over the fifth-ranked Michigan State Spartans with 22 points (including a season-high 6 threes) and 11 assists in 39 relentless minutes. After getting named the Big Ten Co-Player of the Week on February 8th, McCamey responded a day later with a huge game at Wisconsin, scoring 27 points and dropping 7 assists in a stunning Illinois upset at the Kohl Center. During this week of the season, McCamey played as if he was first-team All America, and the Illini were clearly a much dangerous team when the junior point guard was playing at such a high level.

Season Lowlight

Entering the Big Ten regular season finale at home against Wisconsin on March 7th, the Illini were a reeling team, having lost 4 of its last 5 Big Ten games and needing a win at 18-12 to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive. On a difficult afternoon when he would just score 11 points in 32 minutes, the magnitude of the moment seemed to catch up with McCamey, who forced the action several times with Illinois trying to rally with about 6 minutes left in the second half before committing an intentional foul on Jordan Taylor. While Taylor took the free throws and Illinois huddled up, a frustrated McCamey tried to walk through and avoid Bruce Weber, a move that the Illinois head coach didn’t respond well to. Weber would ream out McCamey on the sidelines and then bench him for several minutes. Unfortunately, this incident came to reflect an Illinois team that was struggling at the worst time of the season. The Illini would lose to Wisconsin, thus making its first Big Ten Tournament game (against Wisconsin, of course) a must win. To the credit of Weber, McCamey and the rest of the Illini, Illinois would bounce back to win that game, but still be shut out on Selection Sunday.

What’s Been Going on This Summer

Following his junior season, McCamey declared for the NBA draft but did not hire an agent. While working out with the Houston Rockets, McCamey would pull his name out of the draft by the May 8th deadline, thus ensuring his return to Champaign-Urbana for his final season. Weber praised how McCamey and Mike Davis (who also declared but didn’t sign with an agent before returning) both handled the process.

Earlier this summer, McCamey attended the Deron Williams Skills Academy and the Lebron James Academy. Just recently, he was listed as a 5th-team preseason All American by ESPN’s Dick Vitale. He has reportedly gotten into even better shape and has been Illinois’ best player in pickup games at the Ubben Basketball Complex.

Coming tomorrow: a game-by-game breakdown of McCamey’s junior season, including his top and bottom 5 games. On Wednesday, I’ll break down the areas where McCamey needs to improve during his senior season.

Until then.

Topics: 2009 NCAA Tournament, Assembly Hall, Bruce Weber, Chester Frazier, Demetri McCamey, Illini Basketball, Illinois Basketball, Purdue Boilermakers, U-of-I Basketball, University Of Illinois, Western Kentucky Basketball

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