In his first two years in Champaign-Urbana, Demetri McCamey often bumped heads with Illinois head coach Bruce Weber, who typically used former Illini point guard Deron Williams as a reference point to note the problems with McCamey’s game and frequently get on the St. Joseph’s product to improve as a player.
During a really solid and at times spectacular junior season, McCamey certainly started to grow up while switching full-time to point guard, seemingly heeding Weber’s message to demand more from himself rather than settling for being just good enough.
While McCamey was still prone to bouts of inconsistency, lackadaisical effort, poor shot selection and little to no defense in the 2009-2010 season, he was generally a much more consistent and better decision maker as a junior and strengthened his game in key areas, proving adept as a distributor and essentially becoming an ironman whom Illinois could not afford to take off the floor.
Amazingly, McCamey’s junior statistics were better nearly everywhere across the board than Williams’ junior statistics at Illinois; of course, the main difference is that Williams was directing one of the best college basketball teams in recent memory to the National Championship Game while McCamey was leading the most inconsistent Illini team of the Bruce Weber era to the NIT.
With that said, here is the third and final installment of the Illinois Basketball Summer School series focusing on Demetri McCamey and what he needs to do to get the most out of his final season in the orange and blue.
Notable Improvements in McCamey’s Game from His Sophomore to Junior Season
1. Conditioning: As a junior, McCamey no longer looked like the chubby player from his first two seasons, one who would have trouble finishing layups on the break at times.
Rededicating himself to the game after a first-round loss to Western Kentucky in the 2009 NCAA Tournament, McCamey came in slim and trim as a junior, and therefore was a much more explosive player off the bounce and when at the rim.
More importantly, McCamey getting into the best shape of his career said something early last year about his increasing maturity and changing attitude.
2. Shooting Percentage: McCamey saw his shooting percentage increase nearly 4.5 percentage points (going from 41.1% from the field as a sophomore to 45.4% as a junior) and his three-point shooting percentage improve to 34.1%, slightly eclipsing his freshman percentage from three (34.0%) and representing a decent gain from his sophomore year (31.3%).
While McCamey was guilty of falling in love with the three in a couple of games last season (see the Minnesota home loss), he generally did a good job of taking his game inside the three-point line and into the lane, often off the pick and pop game with Mike Tisdale, and ultimately mixing his shots at the rim, in the mid-range, and from beyond the arc.
McCamey shot more than 10 threes only twice last season, at home against Minnesota and against Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament, with Illinois losing both of those games.
Compared to his freshman and sophomore seasons, when 53.45% and 52.49% of McCamey’s shots were from behind the three point line, the three-pointer accounted for only 38.95% of his shots as a junior. McCamey took 15 less threes as a junior (164) versus his sophomore year (179).
McCamey also made 51 more field goals as a junior (191 vs. 140 as a sophomore), but finished with the name number of made threes (56), further demonstrating how he made it a focal point to be more than a chucker from beyond the arc.
While he could be guilty of throwing up some heat checks at times (typically when Illinois pushed off the defensive rebound), McCamey’s shot selection was typically solid and within the offense as a junior.
3. Scoring: While entrusted with the point guard position following the graduation of senior point guard Chester Frazier after the 2008-2009 season, McCamey somehow found a nice balance between distributing the ball yet still scoring on a team that badly needed his points.
McCamey’s scoring average jumped to 15.1 points per game as a junior (from 11.5 ppg as a sophomore and 8.2 as a freshman), with better shot selection, more frequent dribble penetration and increased trips to the free throw line (147 attempts as a junior compared to 72 as a sophomore) keys to this very nice and necessary scoring increase.
Especially interesting, McCamey did not have a game last year when he shot 20 times (with his 19 shots against Dayton in the NIT quarterfinals a season-high).
He averaged just under 12 shots per game (roughly 11.69) last season. The Illini were 13-12 when McCamey shot more than 10 shots per game but 8-3 when he took less than 10 shots last season.
McCamey led the Illini in scoring 17 times last season and had 10 games of 20 points or more, so his scoring was still important (it was just a matter of how many shots he had to take to get his points).
In all honesty, McCamey was typically a pass-first teammate rather than shoot-first player as a junior for the Illini, that is when Illinois wasn’t in a hole and the game wasn’t on the line.
In those moments, McCamey made no bones about having to score, sometimes getting too carried away and playing a tad overaggressive. Overall, though, McCamey found a nice balance as a junior of knowing when to score and when to get his teammates involved.
4. Distributing the Rock: McCamey’s ability to set up his teammates for open shots had to be one of his most impressive improvements as a junior.
McCamey led the Big Ten with 7.1 assists per game (compared to 4.6 as a sophomore).
His 7.1 apg average was second nationally and broke a single-season Illini average.
He also dished out 16 assists in a road loss to Purdue, tying a school record set by Tony Wysinger in 1986.
McCamey had 7 or more assists in 21 of Illinois’ 36 games, with the Illini going 15-6 in those games.
In the pick and roll/pop game, McCamey was especially fabulous at getting into the lane, drawing double teams and kicking out to Illini bigs like Tisdale, Mike Davis and freshman forward Tyler Griffey.
McCamey seemed to understand a great lesson during his junior season: he could still have a huge impact on the offense without always having to score. I’m not sure he understood this message as a sophomore.
Near the end of the season, McCamey was the accelerator that drove the Illinois offense; when he wasn’t scoring, he was usually assisting on made buckets or setting up his teammates for good looks that always didn’t go down.
5. Marathon Man: Going back to his improved conditioning, McCamey averaged 34.5 minutes per game as a junior, which seems a bit low when considering that he was playing nearly 40 minutes a game at the end of the year as the Illini were desperately trying to reach the NCAA Tournament.
McCamey’s minutes went from 1040 in 34 games as a sophomore to an amazing 1241 in 36 games as a junior (showing his greater consistency and the even bigger need for him to be on the court nearly all the time for the Illini).
In his last 10 games, McCamey averaged 38.2 minutes per game and went the complete distance (40 minutes) in 3 of Illinois’ last 5 games.
Amazingly, McCamey really never seemed to wear down, despite Illinois not having an adequate back-up ball handler, and hardly looked like the amazing load ever got to him.
With that said, McCamey needs some help next season, as he had to do way too much for Illinois even to compete in 2009-2010.
6. Consistency: For a player who could go absolutely missing in games as a freshman and sophomore, McCamey was much more steady as a junior.
While McCamey may not have always had the best scoring games, you knew that he would be involved in some way and have an impact as a junior, something that was not the case during his first two seasons.
While McCamey still had quiet stretches in some games, those periods of play became the exception rather than the norm during his junior campaign, when earlier in his career this seemed like a 50/50 proposition.
McCamey typically competed hard (at least offensively), with it getting to a point where Illinois couldn’t survive with him on the bench.
7. Maturity: With the exception of a sideline incident with Bruce Weber during the Big Ten regular season finale against Wisconsin, McCamey was Illinois’ most reliable and dependable upperclassmen last season, which was a bit surprising given his up-and-down first two seasons.
McCamey seemed to become that more serious about the game between his sophomore and junior seasons, and did a very good job of handling the new responsibility of running a team while being a more consistent force in different facets of the offense, all the while being taxed with an incredible amount of minutes.
8. Attitude: During his first two seasons, McCamey looked like a player who was disinterested and didn’t always care.
That certainly wasn’t the case as a junior, when McCamey played with more urgency and passion, and single-handedly carried the team on his shoulders for stretches.
I’ll be the first to admit that I had my doubts that McCamey would ever develop the right attitude to become a really good player, but last year proved me wrong.
With that said, I offer my apologies to McCamey.
With Illinois having an unique mix of seniors, sophomores and freshman in the fray in 2010-2011, McCamey will need to have an even more positive attitude and grow as a vocal leader, making sure that the Illini buy in to the same mission and don’t fracture into little segments.
5 Areas to Work on for the 2010-2011 Season
1. More Consistency and a Greater Killer Instinct: As a team, Illinois was guilty all season of playing down to its competition and turning it on and off when it felt like (hence the need for a ridiculous amount of comeback attempts).
McCamey was certainly guilty of this at times, and needs to do a better job of coming out ready to go from the start.
Compare the 2009-2010 season with the 2008-2009 season, when senior Chester Frazier set the tone early in nearly every game, and it’s clear to see that McCamey needs to make a more concerted effort at establishing Illinois’ seriousness and readiness at the start of games next season.
While McCamey was much better in terms of his sustained approach, effort and consistency as a junior, there were still times when he wasn’t focused enough or really much of an impact player.
In some games, it took the Illini getting down a bit and McCamey getting mad for him to really start competing.
In those moments, McCamey’s killer instinct was apparent. He needs to have a killer instinct from the moment he steps on the floor to when he leaves the court next season, which needs to be about nothing else but winning as a team.
As the point guard, it’s McCamey’s job to make sure that the Illini are ready to play when the ball is tipped, and to get on his teammates who aren’t playing with the necessary focus (which was definitely a problem last season).
While the Illini may be compromised of 4 seniors next season, it’s clearly McCamey’s team. Everyone will follow how hard and focused he plays.
McCamey should take some time studying Luther Head’s approach to his senior season (when Head was arguably the best competitor on the 2004-2005 Illini, refusing to let Illinois lose at times) to see what it takes to be a competitive force all season.
While McCamey was often clutch at the end of games last season (see the Indiana buzzer-beater), he needs to realize that this refuse-to-lose attitude can be applied at the start of games.
If/once he does so, McCamey and his teammates will be much better off.
2. Just Win Baby: McCamey had a terrific statistical season as a junior, but the team success and consistency wasn’t there.
If McCamey learned anything from testing the NBA Draft waters, it’s that professional personnel want to see him run a team that is winning and having some decent success (ideally the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament).
Illinois has the talent to be a Sweet Sixteen team but needs to realize the importance of playing hard all of the time, a lesson that McCamey has yet to grasp fully.
McCamey needs to set the tone in this regard by being a much more urgent player than he has been in his first 3 seasons in Champaign. While McCamey was less content and satisfied as a junior, he could still raise his hunger to another level.
If McCamey can set this example for his teammates, and demand the same from them, all the while focusing his team’s attentions on winning above personal statistics, Illinois could be a very dangerous team next season, and McCamey should improve his stock in the NBA Draft.
If Illinois continues to play like a talented but underachieving team, the Illini could find themselves scratching and clawing again for the NCAA Tournament, and McCamey and his fellow senior teammates will be the faces of an unsuccessful era in Illini basketball.
3. Defense, Any Defense: What can you say here, besides the obvious?
McCamey really hurt the Illini defensively last year, though this could be missed if you allowed his overwhelming offensive impact to overlook his defensive deficiencies.
All year long, McCamey struggled containing the basketball and keeping his opponent in front of him, sometimes letting inferior and less talented players (see Georgia’s Ricky McPhee) have their way with him.
When getting screened on the ball, McCamey would typically prefer the easier way out (going under screens or meekly calling for switches) rather than fighting through them. Regardless of the type of screen, McCamey typically struggled to get through it.
On the help side, McCamey often fell asleep and lost track of his man, and consistently struggled to close out and recover to the perimeter.
It’s hard to tell if McCamey is really that bad of a defensive player or if he just doesn’t always give the effort (I’d say the latter).
While he played hard on defense at times, his overall effort and concentration needs to be much better on this end, especially if he wants to have a chance to stick in the NBA, considering that he likely will be a rotation player as opposed to a starter on the next level.
A focused McCamey who brings it defensively once practices begin in October and carries this effort over into games next season will be a strong sign to the other returning Illini that he means business during his senior year.
Make no mistake about it: McCamey will never be a Frazier or Williams defensively, but he is too good of a player to be as lackadaisical as he was on this end last season.
Unfortunately, at this point in his career, McCamey doesn’t seem too interested in defense unless he feels like he’s been personally challenged. The truly great players don’t need to feel slighted to play defense; they just bring it all the time.
4. Decision Making: McCamey was much smarter and under control as a junior, though he still averaged 3.4 turnovers per game.
To McCamey’s credit, he did have a decent 2.07:1 assist-to-turnover ratio as a first-year, full-time point guard and had an amazing 5:1 ratio during a stretch of five games last season.
Early in the year, turnovers really hurt McCamey, and such sloppiness would rear its ugly head again later on (against Ohio State in the Big Ten Semis and Stony Brook in the NIT First Round), often due to the junior logging so many minutes.
While McCamey looked like a surgeon in the middle of the Big Ten season, he still made his fair share of unbelievably bad decisions at the absolute worst moments (see the ends of the first Penn State game, the road game at Iowa and the first Big Ten Tournament game against Wisconsin) when some lazy passes nearly cost the Illini.
This is all the part of growing up as a point guard, and it should be remembered that McCamey will be entering only his second season full-time at this position.
Expect him to learn from his mistakes and be a better decision maker.
5. Greater Offensive Urgency (i.e. Be Quick but Don’t Hurry). I still love this classic quote from the late great John Wooden, who could have applied it to McCamey at times last season.
Basically, Wooden’s famous saying boils down to coming out focused and ready to play/attack on every possession all the while staying under control and avoiding being too aggressive, something that was not always the case with McCamey as a junior.
In some situations last season, McCamey was way too content and nonchalant at the point, overdribbling and failing to get the offense into a good rhythm.
Pounding the ball into the ground as Illinois became a bit too reliant as a team on the pick and pop game late in the year, McCamey would typically burn down the Illinois shot clock, resulting in difficult/forced shots and wasted/empty possessions for the Illini.
Of course, this criticism is on more than just McCamey but a coaching strategy that was guilty of trying to draw out the game too much, sacrificing quality ball movement and post touches in the process.
In other instances (typically when Illinois was trying to come back), McCamey would try to do it all himself, resulting in rushed shots, careless decisions, and some sloppy turnovers (with the second half of the second Wisconsin game really standing out).
Continued growth in terms of his focus, effort and attitude would serve McCamey well in terms of running a smoother, more efficient ship at the point guard and helping mold the Illini into a much more consistent team.
Summarizing McCamey’s Junior Season: By no means am I trying to be overcritical with McCamey, who had a terrific junior season and was clearly Illinois’ MVP. McCamey needs to be commended for his improvements in not only his play on the court but his approach and attitude to game.
It’s a bit scary to think where Illinois would have been last season without McCamey, who was as invaluable of an Illini player in recent memory and arguably meant as much to the Illini as Evan Turner did for Ohio State.
McCamey essentially answered many questions about his focus, commitment and attitude last season while ratcheting up his play to really spectacular levels.
Now can he take even more steps heading into his senior season?
All signs point to yes in the offseason, but we’ll have to wait and see until the basketball team starts practicing in October and playing for real in November.
Projecting McCamey’s Senior Season: While McCamey is penciled in at the point, he needs less pressure on his shoulders, specifically in the form of someone who can develop as a backup at the position (something that Jeff Jordan was not).
The Illini have been grooming redshirt freshman Joseph Bertrand to spell McCamey, and highly-touted McDonald’s All-American Jereme Richmond may be able to run the team as a point forward. Brandon Paul, who is a better distributor than he gets credit for, could also be a wildcard as a backup to this position, perhaps not in a full-court setting but rather running the screen and pop game in the half court.
With that said, expect McCamey to still log major minutes in the 28-34 range.
The development of a secondary ball handler at least would allow McCamey to spend some time at the shooting guard, where he has proven strong at moving off the ball and screens.
Don’t be surprised if McCamey’s scoring average drops as a senior (when projecting the growth of Illinois’ sophomores and the addition of incoming freshman like Richmond and Meyers Leonard).
With that said, it will be interesting to see if McCamey can raise his assists to 8 per game, which would be an even greater reflection of his growing skills as a point guard. Cutting down his turnovers (to roughly 2 per game) would also be a big plus.
McCamey certainly has the skills to be the Big Ten Player of the Year as a senior, but I wouldn’t expect it considering the collection of talent that Illinois now has.
While McCamey should be first-team Big Ten again, the individual accolades will not matter; this season is all about winning as a team.
The Illini seniors are seemingly starting to grasp that they really haven’t done anything collectively while at Illinois (just 1 NCAA Tournament appearance in 3 seasons) and are also realizing that their legacy is on the line in 2010-2011.
In McCamey’s case, he has shown that he can lead a maddeningly inconsistent team.
Can he take hold of the reigns and lead a really good team that is actually a threat of competing with the national big boys?
Illinois certainly has the talent to be good, and it will be key for McCamey to be a coach on the floor who demands the most out of himself and his teammates.
If Illinois plays as good as its looks on paper, the Illini could seriously challenge Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State for a Big Ten title, and McCamey will be the face of the team’s success, which could raise his profile come draft time (i.e. from a projected second rounder to a late first rounder).
If the Illini are a middling team again, McCamey could be branded as a good player but not a winner, which could cause him to slide (ultimately, I think McCamey has what it takes to be a backup guard in the NBA).
With such stakes on the line, here’s hoping that McCamey comes out and plays like there’s no tomorrow, ultimately getting the most out of his and his team’s tantalizing talent.
Well, that concludes the Illinois Basketball Summer School series on Demetri McCamey.
Under the microscope next (i.e. early next week) will be senior center Mike Tisdale.
Coming tomorrow: Writing Illini’s first post on the 2010 football season.
I am pleased to announce that Nicholas Houska, an UI engineering undergrad, will be providing the site with much-needed football analysis that I am incapable of.
I am glad to have Nick on board and look forward to his first post Thursday.
Topics: Brandon Paul, Bruce Weber, Chester Frazier, Crandall Head, Demetri McCamey, Deron Williams, Illini Basketball, Illinois Basketball, Jereme Richmond, Luther Head, Meyers Leonard, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, Tyler Griffey, U-of-I Basketball, University Of Illinois