By Dave Wischnowsky–
They both played high school ball on a team with a more glamorous teammate (Bracey Wright and Evan Turner).
Each entered college with a ton of talent – and probably a few too many pounds. But one worked his way into shape, led his team to the national championship game and became a first-round NBA pick.
The other, meanwhile, has also worked into shape … and is trying to accomplish those last two.
Deron Williams and Demetri McCamey have more in common than their affinity for orange. They’re two of the greatest point guards to play basketball for the University of Illinois. That’s not in dispute. But, ever since McCamey showed up on campus four years ago, it’s been considered veritable sacrilege among Illini Nation to even mention him in the same breath as Williams’ without a disclaimer such as:“I know Demetri’s not as good as Deron, but …”
Well, I’m here to say that, as an Illini, Demetri McCamey is every bit as good as Deron Williams. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say this:
I think he’s even better.
(Amazingly, lightning didn’t strike me down as I typed that.)
Over the past season-and-a-half of basketball, I’ve grown weary of Illini fans still feeling it necessary to knock McCamey down a peg every time they discuss his game.
To wit, a couple weeks ago while discussing via text messages the current Illini’s chances of reaching the Final Four this season, my buddy wrote that he thinks Illinois can accomplish the feat “… if (Mike) Davis rebounds and McCamey untaps his potential like Deron did (he is not Deron, but you know what I mean.)”
I knew exactly what he meant and I sighed a bit before firing back a text that read: “I actually think Demetri is better than Deron was in college – at least offensively. The key is if he’ll play D. I’m tired of people feeling like they have to qualify Demetri by saying ‘he’s not Deron.’ Demetri is [darn] good on his own.”
And he’s never been better than he’s been this season.
Last Wednesday night, for example, with Illinois playing sluggish – and also playing with a women’s basketball – against Oakland (Mich.) at Assembly Hall, McCamey threw on a cape and scored 11 straight points early in the second half to give the Illini a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in a 74-63 win. He finished with a season-high 30 points.
So far this season, McCamey is averaging 16.3 points, 7.2 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game for the 16th-ranked Illini (9-1), who host Northern Colorado at 5 p.m. on Sunday. He’s also shooting a blistering 51.3 percent from the field and even better than that (52.4 percent) from the three-point line.
Such flourishes as the one vs. Oakland have been the rule – not the exception – for McCamey since last season. He’s as good a point guard as you’ll see in college basketball in 2010-11 – and you could say the same last year when, as a junior, McCamey came into his own and averaged 15.1 points and a Big Ten-best 7.1 assists per game.
Deron Williams didn’t have a senior season at Illinois, having opted to go pro after his junior year. But, during that Final Four campaign, he averaged 12.5 points (on 43.3 percent shooting and 36.4 percent from three), a Big Ten-best 6.8 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.0 steals for what was clearly a much better Illini team than the one featuring McCamey as a junior. Williams, of course, also hit one of the biggest shots in Illinois history: the three-pointer to force overtime with Arizona in Illinois’ epic 2005 Elite Eight victory.
Now, I’m not here to knock Deron Williams in the same way that many seem to knock McCamey. Williams was a great college point guard – and a superior defender than McCamey. But, I also have to be honest when I say that I was surprised when he was selected as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft.
And I’ve been even more surprised at just how great he’s become in the league. D-Will very well might be the premier point guard in the NBA, a label I never would have imagined him owning. But it’s that incredible professional success that I also think colors too much of Williams’ legend at Illinois.
And also causes fans to say McCamey isn’t as good as him.
Now, I have no idea how good Demetri will be as a pro (I’ll be stunned if he reaches Deron’s level). But, after 3½ years of watching him in Champaign, this I do know: As a collegian Demetri McCamey is, at the very least, a peer with Deron Williams.
And, you know, it’s OK to acknowledge that.
No disclaimers necessary.
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.