How Demetri McCamey’s college career will be judged depends on what Illinois does in the next few weeks.
If McCamey and the Illini underperform, failing to make another NCAA tournament or get knocked out in the opening round again, he will likely be thought of as a gifted player who could amaze and frustrate, but just never could make Illinois a consistent winner. His career will be defined by Illinois’ struggles in the Big Ten -- the Illini are 34-37 in conference in McCamey’s four seasons -- and its lack of postseason success, with just one NCAA tournament appearance and no wins to date.
On the other hand, if McCamey can play at the All-American level he’s occasionally shown this season and pushes the Illini forward in the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament, he’ll be remembered most for those achievements.
McCamey knows this, too.
“Everyone remembers a winner,” said McCamey, who will play in his final home game on Saturday. “If you go out and win, people won’t remember your first game, but your last game. [This season] has been a lot good and some bad. I’m just trying to have a strong finish.”
McCamey’s senior season hasn’t played out as he expected. With Illinois returning nearly its entire team from last season and adding a talented freshman class, McCamey was hopeful the Illini could be among the top teams in the country and could compete for a Big Ten title.
For a little more than a month to start the season, that seemed realistic. Illinois came out strong out of the gates led by McCamey. Hitting outside shots, crossing up defenders, scoring on the drive and ranking among the nation’s leaders in assists, McCamey was playing as well as anyone in the country. People were starting to talk about him as a high NBA draft pick.
It wouldn’t last. An unthinkable loss to UIC at the United Center began derailing the Illini. McCamey stayed consistent for a little longer, but he also began dropping off in January. His points and assists fell drastically, and it led to Illinois coach Bruce Weber publicly stating that runners and agents had filled McCamey’s head with how great he was and he had stopped working.
McCamey swears that wasn’t case.
“Coach probably thought all the talk of the NBA by everyone and the newspapers was giving me a big head,” McCamey said. “That wasn’t true. I was as frustrated with my play as anyone.”
McCamey’s struggles coupled with the Illini falling out of contention in the Big Ten title race and putting themselves in position to be on the NCAA tournament bubble again resulted in people taking their anger out on McCamey. He was blasted on the message boards. People questioned him on the radio. There were Weber’s comments.
Some people even went as far as telling him how they felt about on his Twitter and Facebook pages.
“Some people told me I was the worst player,” McCamey said. “I occasionally would have to go on Facebook and delete some things.”
McCamey didn’t let those criticisms affect him. He understood it comes with the territory. He was more concerned about what had become of his game. He’s made a conscious effort to be more aggressive in the past few weeks, and it’s paid off.
After going through a three-week spurt during which he had four games of less than 10 points, he’s put up 15 or more points in his last four games. His assists have also risen again, dishing out six against Ohio State and seven against Iowa recently.
Statistically, McCamey will go down as one of the best ever to wear the orange and blue. He started 111 of 135 games in his career. He’s just the second Big Ten player in a career to have 1,600 points and 700 assists. He ranks second on Illinois’ all-time charts and fourth in Big Ten’s with 710 career assists. He’s seventh on the school’s career scoring list with 1,663 points.
The numbers are nice, but they’re not what McCamey is aiming for. When asked what his ideal senior day would be like on Saturday, he had only one expectation.
“Hopefully go out with a bang and just get a win,” McCamey said. “I don’t want to score 30 points or dish out 20 assists. I want to win.”
With that one and a handful more wins in March, McCamey will be on his way to being remembered fondly in Champaign.