When your team possesses the biggest, quickest and utterly dangerous big man in the region, you had better make sure he gets the basketball.
The only problem is, every coach from every team you've met along the way has pulled out all the stops to disrupt that part of your game. So if you're Howard point guard Shailique Cameron, your job each night is to outguess every opposing coach you face. And Cameron, whose Howard Tigers go into this week's Region 6-AA semifinals with a 24-5 record, has done the job admirably.
The Tigers next take the floor Tuesday at 7:45 in the Region 3-AA semifinal at McMinn County High School against the Central Purple Pounders (17-9), who snatched a first-round road win against from Meigs County Saturday. The Pounders are one of only two teams in District 6-AA to defeat Howard in the regular season, but lost 71-44 in the district as Cameron helped break down the Central defense with four 3-pointers as part of his 14-point game.
“He deserves to be written about,” said his head coach, Walt McGary.
Cameron, whose distinctive two-hand set shot from long range has become a trademark and a crowd favorite, had only periodically been a scoring threat during the season. But as teams did more and more to attempt to smother the Tigers' imposing inside game (mostly 6-foot-8 Brandon Walters), it fell upon Cameron and fellow senior guard Antonio Smith to find ways of getting Walters involved or, more and more, putting points up themselves.
Last week's District 6-AA tournament was Cameron's emergence as a scorer, as he registered double figures in all three wins. In the opening win against Red Bank, he put up 10 points, against Central in the semis, he served as the zone-breaker with four 3s, then against the Brainerd Panthers in an exciting championship game, he put up 17 big points, hitting one of his patented 3-bombs, but also taking it inside as the Panthers worried about his passing right up until the moment he'd score.
“We've learned to keep moving the ball around,” Graham said following Howard's first-round rout of Polk County. “I've learned to start looking for my shot more, and we're all playing off each other.”
McGary had bemoaned the fact that the Tigers were reluctant converts to his philosophy about moving the ball around. But right about the time the calendar flipped over to the new year, things starting sinking in. It took a bummer of a loss at East Hamilton, one in which the Tigers scored only 46 points, to complete to education.
The Tigers have won eight of nine since.
“Playing with Brandon, can make it very easy for us some nights,” Cameron said. “We try our best to get it to him. It's a real pleasure being his teammate”
But Cameron has plenty of confidence in his own offensive game, when needed. His old-school two-handed set shot is a lifelong skill taught to him by his father, Kevin Cameron.
“I've been doing catch-and-shoot since I was about five,” he recalled.
Cameron and his backcourt mate, Antonio Smith, have been teammates since the ninth grade, and can easily swap out point and shooting guard roles to show defenses a new look. As a result each has his best overall games in recent weeks, according to their coach.
“We really have our confidence now,” Cameron said.
The Region semifinals begin tonight at 6 with East Hamilton (23-9) meeting 6-AA rival Tyner (11-16), which came away with a road upset. The Lady Hurricanes have beaten the Lady Rams three times this season, including a 54-42 victory in last week's District 6-AA semifinals.
Following will be a 5-AA rivalry matchup between Meigs County (25-6) and McMinn Central (27-3). In their two previous meetings, the Lady Chargers had wins by two and 39 points.
Tuesday's boys semifinals will begin with a much-anticipated battle between Brainerd (15-12) and McMinn Central (27-3) at 6:00, followed by the Howard (24-5) against Central (17-9) to start right around 7:45.