Friends for Life, Foes For a Day

Turner takes it to the rack against Wisconsin. Getty Images

Illinois' Demetri McCamey and Ohio State's Evan Turner may get a few minutes this week in a tunnel or a hallway to catch up with one other during the Big Ten Tournament.

But there won't be much time; it'll be mostly business in Indianapolis. McCamey is looking to help Illinois improve its seed in the NCAA Tournament. Turner's objective is to solidify Ohio State's NCAA bid.

As time passes in the years to come, it'll be more and more like this for the once inseparable pair: they'll simply talk less. Already, they've gone from seeing each other 10-15 hours a day in high school to calling each other regularly as college freshmen to now keeping in touch every few weeks as sophomores. When they hit the pros—both potentially in the NBA—their friendship will likely change again.

"He's just like a brother to me," McCamey explains. "He's in the family. He'll always be with me."

They began their lifelong friendship at St. Joseph High School in Westchester, Ill. McCamey was the muscular guard and the quieter one; Turner was the slender forward and gregarious one. Together, they clicked on and off the court. In their two varsity seasons, St. Joe's went 53-7 and fell short of a state championship as seniors when Derrick Rose and his crew knocked them off.

McCamey and Turner weren't just bonded by St. Joe's, though. They also played for the same AAU team, the Illinois Wolves. All of it combined, there were very few days where they weren't passing the ball to each other.

"We were like Batman and Robin," McCamey said. "We were like big brother and little brother. We played high school together. We played AAU together. We played pick up together. We were with each other until we went home and went to sleep."

Then, they went their separate paths, though they did still end up going in similar directions. Both chose the Big Ten (with Tony Freeman last season at Iowa, it gave St. Joe's three former players in the same conference.)

McCamey and Turner were average as freshmen: neither was remarkable nor made the conference's all-freshman team. Now as sophomores, they've progressed and in doing so their teams have as well.

McCamey, who is 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, has become a more consistent player. His point guard skills still need fine-tuning, but his once questionable work ethic is coming around. He leads the Illini in scoring at 11.9 points per game and is second best with 4.8 assists. He was recently voted third-team all-conference.

"There's a point in a guy's career that he starts to get it," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "He understands what it takes, how much commitment is needed. I think he's starting to get it."

Turner's light went on, too. After an up and down freshman year at Ohio State (at one point he even considered transferring), Turner has felt a whole lot more comfortable this season in Columbus. His play has followed. With size—6-7—skill and a great understanding of angles and how to use his body, Turner has turned himself into one of the conference's elite players. He has averaged 16.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists. Turner was the only unanimous Big Ten first-team selection by the media.

With his game's rise, his draft stock has also skyrocketed. One former NBA scout was told by a GM that Turner could be a lottery pick. NBADraft.net has Turner going No. 14 in 2010. DraftExpress.com has him going at No. 19 in 2009.

"I like how versatile he is," DraftExpress.com's Jonathan Givony said. "He can do a lot of different things. He can put the ball on the floor, he can rebound, he can make mid-range jumpers, he can pass. He's a very good all-around player. You don't find a guy often who can play three positions."

Turner says he doesn't plan on leaving after this season. He wants to come back next year for a run at a Big Ten title. Yet, when told where he could go in the draft, he lit up.

"That's really amazing," he said. "I'm speechless when it comes to that. God has really worked things out for me. You dream your whole life for that to occur. I'm pretty sure no one expected me to playing the way I'm playing. I've told people before, 'I don't work out to be mediocre; I work out to be the best.' I'm not surprised at all."

Four times Illinois and Ohio State have met in their two-year careers. Both players have experienced victory twice. For them to meet this weekend, they'd both have to advance to the championship game. If that were to happen, their former high school Gene Pingatore will be rooting for individuals, not teams.

"This is fun for me," Pingatore said. "They were great kids to coach. They were winners. They were leaders on the team. They were coaches on the floor. You can see that now with them. They're doing the same things they did here."