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July 15, 2013
Q&A with former Illini Demetri McCamey
Demetri McCamey was the leading scorer on two NCAA Tournament teams, tied teammate Mike Tisdale for most games played in Illinois history (139) and finished second in school history in assists (733) and sixth in points (1,718). Yet, he still remains a polarizing player among the Illini fan base.
Maybe it's because McCamey was the best player during Illinois' slide from the top of the Big Ten to a program fighting just to be in the top half of the conference standings. Maybe it's because the point guard's coach, Bruce Weber, never was afraid to point out McCamey's flaws publicly.
Regardless, McCamey left his mark at Illinois, leaving the program with its first NCAA win since 2006 when the Illini defeated UNLV in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. He's still looking to make his mark at the professional level.
The Minnesota Timberwolves added McCamey to its summer league roster, along with recently graduated Illini guard Brandon Paul. McCamey did not play in Minnesota's first game but hopes to make enough of a mark during the next week to earn a spot on an NBA roster.
OrangeandBlueNews.com columnist Jeremy Werner caught up with McCamey to get an update on his career overseas and in the NBA Development League, competing with Paul, younger brother and Illini recruiting target Glynn Watson and his relationship with Weber.
This is an exciting time for you as you try to reach your NBA dream. You're playing with the Timberwolves during the summer league. What does that entail?
"It's just hard work right now. We were in training camp for a few days doing two-a-days. It's been real intense two-a-days, real hard on your body but at the same time you're trying to go out there and get prepared for Vegas and have a good summer league so you can make an NBA roster."
It's just 10 days of games with guys like you fighting for your NBA dreams. I would imagine it's pretty competitive out there.
"Everything's competitive, whether you're overseas, in the NBA. Professional basketball in general, everything's competitive because everyone wants a job and get paid for it."
Update us on where your journey's taken you since you left Illinois two years ago.
"Wow. I've been out a couple years already. It flew by. The first stop I had during the [NBA] lockout I went over and played overseas in Turkey and was over there for the whole year. Then the next year I came back to play NBA summer league with the Chicago Bulls and then after that I went to training camp with the Houston Rockets. Last year, I played down in the D-League with the New York Knicks' D-League team, the Erie BayHawks. Now, I'm with the Timberwolves for the summer."
Do you have a favorite spot out of all of those? Did you like overseas or would you rather be in the States?
"I really love overseas. A lot of people comeback and really be frustrated. Overseas was pretty good. I was on a real good club over there, so overseas was pretty good. But everybody's dream is to stay in the NBA and reaching that goal and staying home and having your friends and your family watching you play."
What's it like to play in the D-League? I know it's not in the highest level, but Mike Tisdale played there too. What was your experience like?
"The D-League is tough. It's a grind-out league. It's up-and-down. It's kind of hit-or-miss. It helps you out to develop you. At the same time, if you don't get any call-ups or you don't make an NBA roster from it, it helps you as a player just to help develop skills. It's a lot of practice, a lot of games. It's just good repetition to help you while you're young."
What do you have to prove to make an NBA roster?
"Right now, it's like anybody in my position trying to come into the NBA. It'd be as a backup point guard first. The backups always have to bring the energy, be the leader on the floor and provide energy on the defensive end, especially. It's just about knowing your role, and the defense is going to be the biggest part."
One of the guys you're competing with for playing time or a roster spot is your former Illini teammate Brandon Paul. Is it friendly with him or are you guys really competitive right now?
"It's real competitive. We can be friends off the court, but on the court, we're going at each other, playing real hard and trying to make the team. It's real competitive, but at the end of the day, that's my brother, my Illini brother. We'll always be good friends. Right now, we're going at it on the court. But at the end of the day when it's all said and done, we'll still be Illini brothers."
How is his game different now compares to when you left, when he was a sophomore?
"The biggest thing I complimented Brandon on and gave Coach [John] Groce credit with is he got Brandon to play under control. When I was there, Brandon was up and down, sometimes taking wild shots and just playing his age. Now, he's more mature, slowing down, reading pick and rolls, passing it, making the right plays and became a tremendous player in his last year for the Illini."
We have to talk about your brother, Glynn Watson, an Illini recruiting target. How good is your little brother, Glynn?
"Man, my little brother surprised me. He's tremendous. I try not to give him a lot of credit and keep him focused on school and ball, but he has a real good chance of being a McDonald's All-American and I stay on him all the time. He's going to be pretty good. He's going to definitely look at the Illini to go to school at. It's going to be up to him. I just tell him to make sure he gets in his books now and just get better every day and keep working hard."
Are you recruiting him for Coach Groce?
"He's got to make his own decision. I know that's my brother, but at the same time, he's got to make his own decision. He's got to feel comfortable. He's got to be at the right school, at the right spot, at the right time, so it's going to be all up to him. I'm going to be pushing him, but at the same time I'm not going to put stress on him if he wants to go somewhere else."
I imagine that since you are about seven years older than Glynn that he can't beat you yet, right?
"No. We go through this every day. I was at home working out in Chicago this year instead of going down to San Antonio. I stayed home to work out and we played one-on-one almost every day. He beat me a couple times, as far as just scoring a couple points. If he got three or four points, you think he'd won the game. He's always competitive, and I just like that part of his game that he's competitive. He's always wanting to get better."
After you left Illinois, it was obviously a disappointing final season for Bruce Weber and his staff. Then John Groce comes in here and they make the tournament again. People are pretty excited around here, but from your perspective what do you think about what John Groce has done so far at Illinois?
"I love Coach Groce. I love his approach. I love his energy. I love how he attacks the game, and how he motivates the players and lets them play. The big part about him is he lets his guards run the team, and he gives all the faith in his players to make plays. It's not as much a system thing but playing up and down and getting a good tempo. As long as you play defense with high energy, he'll let you do anything on offense. That's what I think I love about him. I think a lot of the players last year loved the amount of freedom they had on the offensive end."
You always got questions during your time here about your relationship with Bruce Weber. You committed to him and stayed with him for four years. But for four years, I'd always hear him yell on the sideline, "Demeeeeeeeetriiiiiii!" When that happened, when you heard that, what went through your head?
"Half the time I don't even hear it. It was more in practice that I would hear it. During the games, I'm really focused and probably tuning everybody out and things like that. I probably rarely heard him scream my name while we were in the game going through plays except for time outs. It really didn't bother me. Coach Weber's real good. He made me into the player I am today. He's hard-nosed, like Bobby Knight. He just gave me a lot of confidence and put a lot of pressure on me. At the same time, he made me a better person and a better player. Coach Weber he screams at everybody, so after a while you get used to it."
Have you talked to him since he went to Kansas State?
"I haven't talked to him recently, but I texted him congratulations when he got the job and Chester [Frazier] when he was named one of the assistants, along with Coach Wayne McClain. I've been pretty busy myself. I really didn't have much time to call when I was overseas and things like that. It was real busy for me, but every time I get a chance to talk to him, I say 'Hi.' I know when I was going through the draft process, he came up to Chicago to watch me in the pre-draft and I really appreciated that. We still have a real good relationship. It's just I haven't had time or he's been all the way out in Kansas, so it's not like he's at Illinois right around the corner anymore."
Demetri, thanks for your time. We'll keep tabs on you and wish you all the luck going forward.
"Appreciate it. I-L-L!"
Jeremy Werner is the co-host and Illinois reporter for the "Tay and J Show," which airs weekdays 3-6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 93.5, 95.3 in Champaign-Urbana and streams online at www.espncu.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @WernerESPNCU