McCamey hopes weight loss takes him to next level with Illini

John Supinie

Nothing is sacred between Illinois guard Demetri McCamey and basketball coach Bruce Weber.

Here's an example. During the team's banquet before a sellout crowd in a local hotel ballroom, Weber makes a wisecrack about McCamey's weight. (Fellas, don't try this at home.)

"He just wants to make me a better player,'' McCamey said. "It doesn't really offend me. It's something I have to do to get to the next level.''

Stepping off the court after the final workout supervised by the coaching staff Thursday, McCamey weighs 200 pounds. He lost 8 pounds in the offseason and looks noticeably different. His face is thinner, his body more defined. McCamey would like to get to 195 pounds over the summer.

Weight loss is the just the beginning of the offseason makeover for McCamey, a third-team all-Big Ten pick who averaged a team-high 11.5 points and ranked first in Big Ten play with 4.94 assists per game. But his up-and-down performances left Weber regularly pushing McCamey's buttons concerning his drive and weight -- even more bluntly behind the closed doors at the Ubben Basketball Complex.

"He's realized it and taken the challenge,'' Weber said.

While losing weight and improving his conditioning as he heads into his junior year, McCamey could develop into a consistent performer and a leader that will be needed with the loss of senior guards Chester Frazier and Trent Meacham.

"I feel quicker than I did during the season,'' McCamey said. "When you lose 8 pounds, it helps. I'll try to get to 195. Then if I do add weight during the season, I'll stay around 200. Now I have to maintain. I changed my diet. It's maintaining your body to feel healthy.

"Now I know what to do and what kind of shape you have to be in. Now I'm ready.''

Maybe the last straw was the quick exit in the NCAA Tournament, when Illinois dropped a first-round game as a No. 5 seed to Western Kentucky.

"We want to go past the first game in the tournament,'' McCamey said. "That's not like making the tournament. You play one game and you have to go home. And I had to hear them when I got home, 'How did you lose to Western Kentucky?' ''

Dropping the weight is just the first step, Weber said. He also worked the Illini on exploding past the defense. McCamey, a big-bodied guard who often plays at one speed, must drive to create opportunities for himself and his teammates.

"He's got to get the weight off and use it to his benefit,'' Weber said. "Be quicker and get by people. One of the biggest emphasis for all of them is getting by people, getting into the lane, getting free throws and pull-up jumpers.''

With better conditioning, McCamey may end his disappearing acts, when he would coast and come to a standstill. To be a leader, McCamey must be more vocal and also more reliable, Weber said. Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale, juniors next season, with senior-to-be Dominique Keller are also likely options.

"It's still a question,'' Weber said. "Mike Tisdale has been a little vocal. Demetri is trying and talking. I hope the weight loss and conditioning will help him so he can go hard all the time.''

McCamey admitted that you might not notice on the street, since his generation likes to wear baggy clothes.

"Now I have to wear a belt,'' he said.

NOTES:

- Incoming freshman forward Tyler Griffey will battle to stay near 225 pounds after breaking his jaw in March and having it wired shut to heal last week. He will have the wires removed in late May. He suffered the injury during a pickup game at his local YMCA.

- McCamey has been invited to work as a counselor at the Deron Williams Skills Academy, a camp that will host the top 20 prep point guards. Penn State guard Talor Battle has also been invited, McCamey said, for the camp that runs June 23-26 in Dallas.

- Weber, who returned from a quick trip to the Bahamas with his wife, will make a five-day trip in late May to Poland and Germany for coaching clinic with Indiana State coach Kevin McKenna.

- Rock Island sophomore guard Chasson Randle, who made an unofficial visit Wednesday, has scholarship offers from Illinois, Bradley, Indiana, Iowa, Iowa State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Ohio State.

- Basketball player Trent Meacham and soccer goalie Emily Zurrer were award the Big Ten Medal of Honor. The award goes to a male and female recipient from each school who displays proficiency in scholarship and athletics.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.