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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The free throws were insignificant when it came to the big picture.
Dayton was ahead 77-71 with 2.4 seconds remaining, and masses of orange were already filing out of Assembly Hall. Although Illinois still had two free throws to shoot, the game was realistically over.
But for Illinois junior guard Demetri McCamey, it should have meant more. He was the one stepping to the line for the two free throws, and while it's a long shot that anyone will advise McCamey to stay in the NBA draft even if he tests the waters, there was a chance that it could have been the final two times he ever shot a basketball wearing an Illinois uniform.
|Demetri McCamey chipped in 13 points and 10 assists in Illinois' losing effort Wednesday.|
His first attempt clanked off the rim and fell to the floor. A miss.
His second hit the back of the rim, flew into the air and hit the ground, where a Dayton Flyer recovered the ball, and the clock ran out. Another miss.
Money and draft position ultimately will be the deciding factors for McCamey as to whether he returns to Champaign next season. But there should be more to it.
Wednesday should make McCamey pause whenever that choice needs to be made. Even if the NBA dollars make sense, McCamey should come back for one more go. With those two missed free throws, his 6-for-19 shooting performance and a quarterfinal NIT loss to Dayton on his home floor, McCamey should want more than anything to end his career differently.
Really, he should follow his close friend Evan Turner's lead. Turner could have left after his sophomore season at Ohio State and been a first-round pick. Winning meant more to Turner. He came back for another year, won the Big Ten tournament, is about to play a Sweet 16 game and is likely the second pick in the upcoming NBA draft.
With stud freshmen Jereme Richmond, Meyers Leonard and Crandall Head arriving, nearly everyone back from this year's team and one more offseason to individually get better, McCamey could be very close to being in a similar position to Turner if he sticks around.
For now, he's unsure.
"I said I'm going to talk to Coach [Bruce] Weber after the season to see what's best for me," said McCamey of the NBA. "Right now, I'm focused on this team, getting us better and returning Illinois to the top."
McCamey did have a season that puts him into that category with the elite point guards. He averaged 15 points and seven assists, which was among the leaders in the country.
Overall, though, McCamey isn't going to smile when he thinks of the 2009-2010 season.
"Not really," McCamey said. "You judge a point guard not off stats, but off the number of wins and whether your team wins. That for me is unsuccessful. I didn't get my team to the NCAA tournament. We didn't win ballgames close down the stretch.
"To me, it was unsuccessful. The numbers were good and great ... hoo-ha, but wins, that's what matters the most. "
Even Wednesday, McCamey's numbers were more than respectable. He had 13 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists.
Weber expected more, though. He knows what McCamey is really capable of.
"I thought they really disrupted Demetri, and we live and die with him," Weber said. "Their quickness bothered him. They had athleticism to bump on ball screens. I thought he got 10 assists, but he should have had 19 assists and 10 shots. He should have just given in and let the defense come to him. I thought he got frustrated.
"But he's been great, and obviously if we didn't have him, we're not even in games."
McCamey may have been great this season, but just think what he could be a year from now ... if he stays.
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at email@example.com.