LAHAINA, Hawaii – The running joke with Demetri McCamey is that he knows everyone.
"And everyone knows Demetri," said his roommate, fellow Illinois freshman Mike Davis.
Westchester St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore tells the story about players from rival teams attending games to root for McCamey. Illinois Wolves coach Mike Mullins said, "He can't walk 10 feet in a gym without saying hi to somebody."
"I know everyone in college basketball," McCamey said, and it appears he was only half-joking. During Friday's 79-77 win at Hawaii, McCamey put that knowledge to use when he recognized Hawaii's freshman point guard, Kareem Nitoto.
"He was at ABCD Camp in 2005," McCamey said. "We played against each other, so I already knew that he's not a good defensive player, or an okay defensive player, so I knew I could take him off the dribble and help my team."
And in a timeout in the second half, McCamey made a very unfreshman-like move.
"I told coach (Weber), 'Just give me the ball.' "
Weber obliged, giving McCamey 15 minutes and control of the offense in the second half of Illinois' comeback victory. McCamey responded with 10 points and moved into the conversation for a starting role when Illinois plays Arizona State in the Maui Invitational today (10:30 p.m., ESPN2).
"We've talked about starting him. I don't know if it will be the first game (of three in Maui), but maybe earn it for the second game," Weber said Sunday at the Westin Maui Resort. "He's going to play more minutes. He's just got to be a little more consistent. I think that's the biggest thing with all of them."
If the Illini had a yearbook, McCamey might be voted Most Popular – and Most Likely To Get Yelled At By The Coaches. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound point guard is the target of hollering coaches in nearly every practice, and the same has been true since the Illini arrived in Hawaii five days ago. They want to see the same type of effort in practice they see in games.
"We've been very tough on him. We've told him we are not going to let up on him," Weber said. "I hope we don't have to go four years doing this. I would like for him to become responsible and driven and get rid of some of his easygoing tendencies. Until that happens and he proves it on a consistent basis over a course of time, we're just not going to let up."
Coaches aren't the only ones riding McCamey on a daily basis. The team's leader, point guard Chester Frazier, jumps his case whenever he slides.
"You've got to learn how to play hard. I don't think he understands what it takes to play at the college level yet," Frazier said. "He's a good player, so he might think he can coast. But it's not going to happen.
"I talk to him sometimes about it. But I think Coach has been getting on him enough for the rest of us. I think he's just got to learn from that."
It's clear McCamey's maturation as a basketball player is an ongoing process, and the dividends might not be evident here at the sport's premier nonconference tournament. Still, he has perhaps the best support system a talented, young point guard could wish for.
Serving as motivators are Weber and the UI staff, Frazier and other teammates, who see the promise in McCamey.
"(Wayne) McClain and Jerrance (Howard), they're going to know how to work with him, make him tougher, make him an even better player than he is," former UI point guard Frank Williams said during a recent visit to campus. "That's all guys need, all young guys need, is someone to guide them in the right direction."
Weber said the support system extends outside the gym, as well.
"His mom (Sabrina Daniels) has joked with us, 'Don't give him an inch,' " Weber said. "She's been great. She says, 'Stay on him.' It's just his natural temperament to take it easy sometimes."
McCamey's stated goal as a freshman was to earn a starting spot. He thought that would mean beating out Frazier, the incumbent point guard. But Illinois turned the game's momentum Friday when Weber paired Frazier and McCamey together, with Frazier playing more of an off-guard position.
"I love it," Frazier said.
"I love playing with Chester," McCamey echoed. "We're different kinds of players but we both like to get out and run and play a fast game. If I play with him I'm happy, and I'm happy whoever I play with."
Maintaining the team's focus is one of Weber's biggest challenges at the Maui Invitational. He has kiddingly told them to "stop thinking about pineapples and bikinis" to prepare for a Maui field that includes five programs that have reached the Final Four since 2003 (Duke, Illinois, LSU, Marquette, Oklahoma State).
It consistitutes the first taste of big-game basketball for the six Illinois rookies, including McCamey, who played in the first two games. McCamey theorized the tiny Lahaina Civic Center, with a capacity of 2,400, might remind him of St. Joe's gymnasium.
"It will be just like home," he said.
McCamey's home seems to be in the game, if not in practice.
"He seems to respond like a gamer," Weber said. "I don't particularly like that. But when the game starts and the lights go on, he seems to be a little more focused and ready to play. He did it in Canada. Now he did it the other night (at Hawaii). He's a talented freshman but he's got to get a little more consistent in several areas."