Archdeacon: Camara ‘impacts winning’ for Flyers

6-foot-8 forward grabs 18 rebounds, plays stout defense in Dayton’s win over SMU

The game ended with SMU’s Zhuric Phelps missing one final shot and the Dayton Flyers’ workhorse, Toumani Camara – who else? – muscling up for one final rebound.

With the overhead scoreboard lit with victory – Dayton 74, Southern Methodist 62 – Camara tucked the basketball under his arm and started to walk off Blackburn Court at UD Arena on Friday night.

Talk about bringing your work home with you.

A basketball firmly in his grasp – he had a whopping 18 rebounds against the Mustangs – is as much a part of the indelible image of Camara this season as is that old-school head band he wears and the four large butterflies tattooed on the outside of his right leg.

If you think the ink doesn’t fit his rugged, on-court image, let him explain.

“Those four butterflies represent my family,” the 6-foot-8 forward from Brussels, Belgium, said as he stood outside the Flyers’ dressing room after the win.

“One is for my sister who passed away. One’s for me. One’s for my older brother and my mom, she’s on the top. That way I make sure my family is always with me.”

And SMU – like Lindenwood four nights earlier – must have felt like it was going against four people disguised as one beneath the boards.

The 18-board effort followed an 11-rebound night in the season opener Monday.

Camara was the team’s leading rebounder last season – averaging 6.9 per game – and before that, when he was playing at Georgia, he was the Bulldogs top rebounder, as well.

It was the same in high school. As a junior and a senior, he averaged double-digit rebounds – and points, too – for Chaminade Madonna College Preparatory School in Hollywood, Fla.

“Coach (Anthony) Grant really pushed me to try to find my role here; to find what I was really capable of and where I could really impact the game,” Camara said. “And I realized it’s on the defensive side and rebounding.

“I have to be able to make some buckets for the team, but I don’t think scoring is my primary use on this team. Even though sometimes it could be.”

“But where I really need to be consistent is with defense and rebounding.”

And he did both quite well against SMU.

“Before the game Coach Grant told me he had confidence that I could guard 1 to 5 (all the SMU players) in this game,” Camara said.  “He thought I could guard the point guard (Phelps), who was averaging 28 points.

“I took it seriously. I appreciated the confidence he had in me. And tonight I think I showed how I could accept a challenge and complete it.”

Phelps finished the game making just 4 of 16 shots and going 1 for 7 from three-point range.

“I can’t say enough about the effort we got today from Toumani Camara,” Grant said afterward. “He made plays that were huge and enabled us to get the win.

“When you look at that stat sheet, you see the 18 rebounds, but what is outstanding, what doesn’t show up, is that he guarded 1 through 5 today.

“He’s such a versatile player. Like any young guy he’s just figuring out how to be great and what he’s good at. Sometimes that’s not what the average Joe Fan is looking at in terms of evaluating a player, But from a coaching standpoint, he impacts winning.”

No one agreed more than DaRon “Deuce” Holmes II, who shares the around-the-paint duties with Camara.

At 6-foot-10 and especially skilled as a scorer and a shot blocker, Holmes trumpeted Camara not only for his board work, but for the roll-up-your-sleeves example he sets for the team.

“My teammate, Toumani Camara… 18 rebounds! That is incredible!” Holmes said when looked at the stat sheet after the game. “You don’t really see that all the time. Especially in college. That’s insane. That’s a game changer.

“He does what nobody else wants to do – all the time. He’ll go get it. He does it in practice. It’s a blessing to play with him on the court. "

‘You just have to keep working’

Even though the No. 24 Flyers are still missing four players – three, including point guard Malachi Smith and long-range shooting ace Koby Brea, who are out with injuries and another player who is suspended – they’ve had several players from their short rotation who have stepped up.

Holmes had 20 points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots Friday and Mustapha Amzil came off the bench and had 20 points and five rebounds in 22 ½ minutes of play.

Freshman Mike Sharavjamts and Kobe Elvis both added 10 and Camara had eight points to go with his carom collection.

The Flyers finished the game on a 15-3 run and afterward Grant characterized that stretch as the best four or five minutes the team has played so far in this 2-0 season:

“It’s great to see young guys go out and grow up right before your eyes.”

Although one of the older players on the team – Friday night was the 93rd college game he’s played, the 84th he’s started – Camara is especially blossoming early this season.

“Rebounding can be a gambling game,” he said. “There are plenty of times I go for the rebound and don’t get anything. But if you continue to go hard every time, you’ll get a lot of them. That’s the key. You just have to keep working.

“I always tell my teammates, the most annoying player for me to guard is the player who matches my energy When someone’s moving everywhere, going for every rebound and never stopping, you can’t relax and that makes you uncomfortable.”

Holmes said Camara is the perfect leader and that’s something that Camara wanted to be since he started playing college basketball.

Although he started 48 games in his first two seasons at Georgia, he said he wasn’t able to become the leader he wanted there and that was one reason he sought to find a different school.

The Athletic ranked him the 11th best player among 1,573 in the transfer portal in 2021 and he eventually narrowed his choices to UD, the Miami Hurricanes, Florida State and Arkansas.

He chose Dayton, even though the other three – as was Georgia – all were from much-hyped Power 5 conferences.

“A lot of kids out of high school get all caught up in going to the big conferences,” Camara said. “But really it’s about the individual programs and how you can get better and where you can really fit in and showcase yourself.

“And as soon as I came to Dayton, being a leader was something I had to be because we were a really young team and I was one of the older players and one of the guys with the most experience.

“It had to come from me and it really started to come naturally. I’m working on it more this year and the guys have done an amazing job responding.

“So I think Dayton is the perfect spot for me.”

‘It’s like a big family’

With just over 16 minutes left in the second half and the Flyers up by 10, Camara turned toward the Red Scare section during a break in the action and waved his arms skyward, urging the already over-hyped students to ramp up their support.

And they did.

“It’s like a big family,” Camara said. “They love us and we love them. They cheer us on every time we come on the court. We know they have our backs and we have theirs.

“We play for them and they cheer for us.”

The students and the team were especially bonded on this night when both groups were decked out in a special shade of light blue.

The new uniforms the team wore – which were the same color as the tee shirts the students had on – were the retro Columbia blue that the school now calls Chapel Blue, a reference to the blue-domed UD chapel on campus.

The players loved the new threads. Grant told them they were wearing their new “go-get-em” uniforms

Amzil summed it up best: “Look good, play good.”

And if you looked beyond the confines of the box score, you saw no one played better Friday night than Camara.

“It’s great to be able to give him his flowers now,” a smiling Grant said afterward.

“Those hustle plays, those effort plays, the defensive intensity – that’s the identity of the team and he embodies it every day.”

He certainly did Friday night as he walked off the court at game’s end, the ball tucked under his arm, the victory burning brightly overhead.

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