‘It felt like a dream’ — Dayton’s Camara looks back on draft night and ahead to career with Suns

Former Flyer meets with media in Phoenix

Dayton Flyers fans didn’t learn about Toumani Camara’s love of puzzles during his two seasons at the University of Dayton. He revealed that Tuesday when he met with reporters in Arizona for the first time, five days after the Phoenix Suns picked him in the second round of the NBA Draft. He was asked about what he likes to do off the court.

“I’m a big puzzle guy,” Camara said. “I like to do actual jigsaw puzzles, like big pieces. I feel like it calms me down, just focusing on each piece. It takes my mind off everything. It’s my type of meditation, my type relaxing.”

Camara’s average puzzle project numbers 1,000 pieces. He once completed a 10,000-piece puzzle.

“I want to do some big projects and be able to put them in frames and put them on my wall,” Camara said.

Of course, the natural question for the Suns in the months is ahead is where does Camara fit into their puzzle. He joins a roster loaded with talent — Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, etc.

“I think it still hasn’t hit me yet,” Camara said. “I have never met those guys, so being able to play alongside them, great talents like that, I feel like it can help me so much with my game. Being able to compete against them every day, being able to be in the gym and analyze those guys, it’s just exciting.”

Camara, a 6-foot-8 forward from Belgium, will start competing for a roster spot in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Nev. The Suns play their first game July 8. Camara hoped to land somewhere he could play right away.

“That’s why we play basketball — to get on the court and to have the opportunity,” Camara said. “At the same time, I’ll do whatever it takes for my team to win or whatever my coach needs me to do. I’m a role player at the end of the day, so I’m accepting that. Stay true to myself and and be a good teammate.”

Asked what his role with the Suns will be, Camara said, “I think I’m really comfortable with it. They just asked me to be who I am, which is play hard, play with a lot of energy, be a defensive guy, rebound at a high level and then make open shots offensively and just stay true to my game and try to expand on that throughout my career.”

Dayton coach Anthony Grant raved about Camara’s versatility on defense throughout his college career. The Suns likely picked him in part because of that strength in his game.

“In Dayton, we did a lot of pressing, especially my first year, and I was on top of the presses,” Camara said. “So being able to guard the guards and trap and also having tough matchups with some shorter guards when I was sometimes the biggest guy, I feel like (Grant) had a lot of trust in me. I was able to put myself in situations where I could hold my own.”

Camara had a long wait Thursday night and into early Friday morning before the Suns drafted him with the No. 52 pick. He was at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., with other draft hopefuls when Mark A. Tatum, the NBA’s Deputy Commissioner, announced his name.

“It felt like a dream,” Camara said. “It didn’t feel real at the moment, going down and shaking his hand and everything. I put the hat on, something I’ve been thinking about since the age of 7. So being able to accomplish that, especially in front my mom and my brother, that meant the world to me. It was a crazy moment.”

Camara experienced more memorable moments Tuesday. He held up a No. 20 Suns jersey with his name on the back as he posed for photos at the Suns’ training facility: the Verizon 5G Performance Center, northeast of downtown, not far from Camelback Mountain. He introduced himself to fans with a short video shared by the Suns on Twitter.

Camara will soon get to meet his new teammates, but he crossed paths with one Suns player, veteran center Bismack Biyombo, when he was 12 or 13.

“Bismarck had a camp back home in my city, in Brussels,” Camara said, “so it was my first time actually meeting a NBA player. Seeing how big he was — I was probably 6-foot and skinny, 100 pounds — it was just impressive to me, and it stayed in my head throughout my career. I actually have a picture with him. It just means a lot to me to have him here and be on his team.”

Camara worked out in Phoenix for the Suns about two weeks before the draft. He said he had a good feeling about the city. He has also talked to former Dayton teammate DaRon Holmes II, who is from Goodyear, Ariz., just west of Phoenix. Camara said Holmes talks often about how much he loves his home state.

Camara and Holmes not only played together for two seasons at Dayton but spent time together this spring at the NBA Draft Combine. They also worked out together for the Portland Trail Blazers on May 22.

“I feel like it helped both of us to be able to go through that together,” Holmes said. “We had two good years together. It’s a dream for everybody to be able to go to the NBA, so to be able to go through those moments together, it means a lot to both of us. Now he has a lot of footprints he can follow because he’s been through that process already. It’s going to be good for him.”

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