For Demetri McCamey, the journey has been worthwhile since leaving Illinois.
The point guard hopes to make the leap from the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League to the NBA, but his path hasn’t been the smoothest — or quickest — since leaving college.
McCamey, who went undrafted in the summer of 2011, first took his talents to Turkey with an NBA lockout looming. He was joined in the league by former Illini Deron Williams.
After McCamey got “a couple of dollars in his pocket” in his first year out of college, he returned to the United States. He played for the Chicago Bulls in the 2012 NBA Summer League and joined the Houston Rockets in training camp.
McCamey lost his battle with Scott Machado to be the Rockets’ third point guard, so he headed to the Rockets’ D-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Unfortunately for McCamey, Machado didn’t receive enough minutes in Houston and was sent back and forth between the clubs, diminishing McCamey’s playing time. With the urging of his agent, McCamey requested a way out of town.
It happened sooner than expected when the point guard received a call from Gene Cross, another former Illini and the BayHawks’ head coach.
“Coach Cross asked me when I was ready to leave,” McCamey said. “And I said, ‘Immediately.’ ”
Cross knew McCamey would be a great addition to his ballclub, which is the hybrid affiliate of the New York Knicks.
“He has the potential to be an NBA point guard. We just have to tighten things up here and there defensively,” Cross said of McCamey. “We’ve got to work on his reads on ball screens and such, but, yeah, being an Illinois grad didn’t hurt. You want to take care of people that you know, that you’ve watched and you have an appreciation for and what they’ve done. It’s funny, you see the flow of people — generations of people — and you can still be close with Ryan Baker, Kendall Gill, Stephen Bardo.
“It’s always good to have an effect on a former Illini. Well, I guess you’re never a former Illini, you’re always an Illini.”
McCamey’s goal remains the NBA.
“I think at Illinois I proved I could shoot and make plays and pass, but now people ask if I can beat smaller guards and if I can win,” McCamey said. “So I’m trying to push in transition more and get to the free throw line and get in good shape and win. If we can get into the playoffs and win a couple of games I think that will answer the question. Everything is lined up for my situation here with Erie to succeed.”
Though his future is in front of him, McCamey is willing to revisit the past.
McCamey’s Illinois teams made two NCAA tournaments, where they were upset by Western Kentucky in the first round in 2009 and lost to Bill Self’s Elite Eight-bound Kansas Jayhawks in 2011.
Last summer, McCamey visited with Illinois men’s basketball coach John Groce and others around campus.
“They cleaned house with football, and some of the other sports have different coaches, too,” McCamey said, but everyone welcomed him in C-U.
“Some fans may get mad at a game or that we didn’t get to the Sweet 16, but everything is perfect in Champaign. Alumni come up to me — or fans in another state or people in an airport — and are really nice. I don’t see as much hate as love. When you’re playing there’s mixed emotions, but I haven’t come across those people with bad things to say.
“The real true fans that come up to me, that even have the (guts) to come up to say something, are coming up to me always out of respect. They’ll say, ‘Well, I wish we could have won more, but I appreciate the effort and the hard work.’ They might say, ‘You should have won this or should have won that,’ but (they) give you respect. I respect that more than people writing on blogs or calling on the radio who won’t see you face-to-face and say anything.
“The real true Illini fans and coaches and family and friends, those are who I appreciate the most.”
McCamey doesn’t hold any grudge against former Illini coach Bruce Weber, who sometimes was critical of the point guard’s play.
“What stuck in my heart the most (when Weber left Illinois) was his family there; his daughters went to school there and everything, and he had been in Champaign all those years. But at the same time he got blessed with another opportunity at Kansas State,” McCamey said. “And he helped out my guys, Chester Frazier (assistant coach) and Wayne McClain (director of student-athlete development).”
McCamey said he hasn’t followed Kansas State closely this season, but he knows Weber is as intense as ever.
“He’s just got a winning mentality. The same pressure he put on me and same stuff he was saying in articles to me, he was doing it to Dee (Brown) and Deron, and it just didn’t stand out as much because those guys were winning and ranked No. 1. But the same pressure — same thing with Luther (Head) — it didn’t surprise me the stuff he was saying; he just wanted you to be a better player.”