Senior guard Josh Cameron is usually a safe bet to deliver the best sound bite of any of the Coastal Carolina basketball players, whatever the topic may be, and he wasted little time Sunday after the NCAA Selection Show in providing one of the more compelling story lines for the week.
After seeing the No. 16-seeded Chanticleers paired with No. 1 Wisconsin for their NCAA tournament opener Friday night in Omaha, Neb., the Racine, Wisc., product was asked if coming from Badger territory gave him any added motivation for the matchup.
And that was all the setup he needed.
“Yeah, it adds something extra because in high school I felt I had a good high school career and I never heard from Wisconsin,” he said. “So I definitely, definitely want to go out there and show them I can play against them.”
He was just getting warmed up, though. Asked if he grew up rooting for the Badgers, Cameron quickly corrected that notion.
“I’ve never been a Badger fan. I’ve been the total opposite my whole life,” he said. “I was pulling against them, so it’s actually exciting, it’s actually a good thing to have the opportunity to play against them.”
Foremost, it’s big for the Chants (24-9), who are making their first ever back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, but it is indeed an especially fitting stage this week for Cameron – one of only two seniors on the team – going up against Wisconsin (31-3), the vaunted national contender from his home state.
After starring at a small high school, Kenosha Christian Life School, and putting up big numbers for a couple seasons, Cameron transferred to the much larger Park High School in Racine for his senior year. That team went 25-1 as he recalls, but with a lack of intriguing scholarship offers he still had to go the junior college route for two years at Connors State in Oklahoma while trying to prove he could make an impact at the next level.
And in the two seasons since at Coastal Carolina, he’s left no doubt of that while serving as a key cog on the consecutive NCAA tournament teams that ended the program’s 21-year absence in the Big Dance.
Cameron’s time with the Chants has been just about a best-case scenario for the 6-foot-1 guard as he came in slated to be a key reserve last season before taking over the starting point guard job and finishing third on the team with 13.8 points per game. This season has had its trying tests, but he’s second on the squad at 12.9 points per contest and remains a threat to take over a game at any moment with his penchant for heating up quickly from the perimeter while being able to get through the lane as well.
“I don’t think we’d be where we are without his play,” Chants coach Cliff Ellis said. “You can look at numerous games in which he’s scored big buckets so his value to the team has been astronomical.”
That Ellis is so effusive in his praise of Cameron at this point is significant beyond his choice of words.
It was just back on Jan. 31 that the coach suspended the player for a game and made him stay behind for a road trip to Gardner-Webb after the senior guard had expressed his frustration over playing time in a way that Ellis didn’t feel was appropriate.
Cameron said he learned a lesson from that experience and worked to make things right.
“We had a one-on-one talk, and he just let me know how it was and what I had to do and that he was still going to give me a chance to play. I appreciate him for that,” Cameron said.
After moving the senior to a sixth-man role this season to accommodate the addition of sophomore point guard Shivaughn Wiggins, Ellis actually reinserted Cameron into the starting lineup on Senior Night in place of sophomore Elijah Wilson and has let him keep the gig for the last six games now.
“It’s a learning process. I’m 23 years old and I had to realize that and I had to be mature about the situation, especially after the suspension,” Cameron said of smoothing things out with Ellis. “I just took a look in the mirror and had to be mature about the situation. I just took it as it was and it ended up working out for me in the end.”
Cameron earned honorable mention All-Big South recognition this season and will get at least one more chance now to leave a mark as one of the primary contributors to this two-year run that has returned the Chants to the national stage.
“I never would have imagined making it [to the NCAA tournament] two years in a row and it’s a good feeling,” he said. “I feel like I made the right decision by coming here and I appreciate my teammates and coaches, but we’re not done yet. We’ve still got some fuel left in the tank.”
But no more fuel to the fire, as the saying goes.
Speaking after practice Tuesday he seemed to downplay his comments from earlier in the week. He said Wisconsin not recruiting him at all wasn’t actually of major consequence to him as he knew the Badgers’ style of play did not really fit his own style and that’s mainly why he had never connected with the program.
“But that’s not a knock against them. It’s just not my style of play and I understand that,” he said.
He knows it’s not Cameron vs. Wisconsin on Friday night, but that doesn’t mean it’s not in the back of his mind at all.
He’s done three interviews this week with Wisconsin-based radio shows and has heard from people he hasn’t talked to since high school as buzz builds for the game.
“They’re definitely hitting me up and letting me know that they noticed,” he said.
While he felt his high school basketball feats may not have gotten the attention they deserved from Division I programs – and not just the Badgers – there seems to be plenty of respect pouring in for what he’s made of his collegiate career in the end.
And sure, he’s at least thought about the possibilities in play Friday night with everybody in Badger country watching.
“It would be nice if we could get a win against them. I’d be like a celebrity back home,” he said laughing.
Regardless of the ending, though, things have turned out just fine for the senior from Racine.