The Buckeyes arrive to Champaign undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country. The Illini have their perfect 10-0 home record to defend and are looking for revenge after Ohio State defeated them three times last season, including an overtime victory at the Big Ten tournament that ended Illinois’ NCAA tournament hopes.
But there will be still something missing for McCamey. Until Saturday, playing Ohio State had always meant facing his close friend and former high school teammate, Evan Turner. McCamey vs. Turner always meant plenty of trash talking, big shots and all-out competition with bragging rights on the line.
Turner left school early after last season and was drafted No. 2 overall by the Philadelphia 76ers.
“[Illinois-OSU is] probably still a rivalry,” McCamey said. “I don’t know if it’s as much trash talk. Me and him were probably doing the most."
Even for Turner, watching the game from home instead of playing in it will be different.
“It’s weird even being away from Ohio State,” Turner said on Friday night. “Not kind of having Demetri around and having a little bit of distance is weird. We both went to the same high school and both played in the same conference. Now, we’re at two different levels of basketball. I haven’t seen him a while. It’s definitely weird.”
McCamey nearly joined Turner in the NBA this season, but pulled his name out of the draft to return for his senior year. McCamey’s motivation was to help Illinois back to the NCAA tournament and boost his NBA stock.
McCamey’s decision has paid off as he’s improved in nearly every statistical category and is among ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford’s top 25 NBA prospects. McCamey is averaging 16.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 7.2 assists and is shooting .525 from 3-point range.
Turner has been impressed. He tweeted out recently to his 24,000-plus followers, “My boy demetri mccamey is arguably the best pg in college basketball. Just doesn't have the hype. He the real deal tho.”
Turner can’t wait until he and McCamey are both in the NBA. It’s something they used to talk about while playing together for St. Joseph High School and the Illinois Wolves, a club team, as teenagers.
“That’s going to be so cool,” Turner said. “It’s crazy, when he was a freshman and he was super good, and I wasn’t so good, I remember him telling everyone, ‘Me and Evan are going to make to the league. If he makes it, he’s going to take me. If I make it, I’m going to take him.’
“It’s funny being 16-year-olds and talking about that, and now that’s what’s going to happen. That’s us being really blessed and being around the right people.”
Turner’s first season in the NBA has been rocky. He had an 18-game span between Nov. 24 and Dec. 27 where he only scored in double figures once. Lately, he has found more of a rhythm. He scored 23 points against Phoenix in late December and had 19 points, five rebounds and five assists against Detroit earlier this month. He is averaging 7.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists.
McCamey has no doubt Turner’s best is yet to come.
“It’s just a good adjustment for him, the speed of the game, the time, the momentum, the coaching staff,”
McCamey said. “He’s in a little bit of transition and hopefully he can get back on track.”
Turner saw it in the same way.
“I’m all about paying my dues,” Turner said. “Sometimes it hasn’t meant to happen. Some of the shots I usually make aren’t going in. I keep working hard. That’s the best thing from coming up from the bottom. I’ve done it before.”
Turner has a shoot-around Saturday morning before playing Utah in the evening, but he’ll back home in time to watch the Illinois-Ohio State game. He hopes his good friend McCamey does well, but his prediction was an Ohio State victory.
“I’m a Buckeye, baby,” Turner said with a large laugh.