Playing at Dayton ‘perfect opportunity’ for Georgia transfer Camara

Forward from Belgium was already familiar with UD and its coaches because of campus visit in 2018

Toumani Camara saw something special building when he first visited the University of Dayton in September 2018.

Obi Toppin had yet to play a game for the Dayton Flyers at that point. Jalen Crutcher was a young point guard with potential but had not built the resume that would make him one of the great players in school history. Dayton had finished 14-17 the previous season, head coach Anthony Grant’s first, and was still a year away from starting the march to a historic 29-2 season.

Even then, Camara could see the promise.

“The team was really connected,” he said.

As much as he liked what he saw, Camara picked the Georgia Bulldogs over Dayton and Kansas State, the other teams in his final three, that October and didn’t see the coaches and players he met in Dayton again until November 2019 when their paths crossed in the first round of the Maui Invitational.

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Toppin and Crutcher teased Camara, who had seven points in 13 minutes in an 80-61 loss, about picking Georgia over Dayton.

“Jalen Crutcher told me I should have came here,” Camara said.

Sometime soon, likely in June, Camara will come to Dayton. He committed to the Flyers on Thursday one week after entering the transfer portal and four weeks after the final game of his sophomore season at Georgia.

Camara, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward, made a relatively quick decision compared to the 1,282 other players — that was the number as of Friday morning, according to — in the transfer portal. Dayton was one of the first schools to contact him when he announced his decision to transfer.

“There were a lot of great options for me,” Camara said. “At some point, I needed to make a decision, and I didn’t want to drag it out too long. I feel like if you have a great opportunity in front of you and there’s no flaws with it, there’s no wrong choice to make. Dayton was the perfect opportunity for me, so I took it.”

Camara earned a starting job 10 games into his freshman season at Georgia and didn’t relinquish it, starting 48 games in two seasons. He almost doubled his scoring average (6.6 to 12.8) from his freshman to sophomore season.

Camara is capable of producing ESPN top-10 worthy plays — he had 53 dunks in two seasons — but also will bring rebounding and shot-blocking ability to Dayton, which will need both. UD ranked seventh in the A-10 in rebounding margin last season and 13th out of 14 teams in blocked shots.

Camara led Georgia with 7.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocked shots per game last season.

“I feel like that was something I always had him in me,” Camara said, “and I feel like I can do better than what I did last year because I feel like I was not as intuitive. I can be even more impactful next year.”

Dayton had advantages over the other schools recruiting Camara once he decided to transfer because he had already seen the UD campus and met the coaches in person in 2018. No one in the transfer portal can take any official visits to schools or meet with coaches in person this spring because of recruiting restrictions during the pandemic. Almost everything is still being done by Zoom calls, phone calls and text messages.

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That familiarity wasn’t the biggest reason Camara picked Dayton this time around. Like most of the recruits who commit to the Flyers, his decision came down to his relationship with the coaches.

“I already know coach Grant,” Camara said. “He’s a good coach and a good person. He’s always positive. And I feel the whole coaching staff is amazing.”

Camara is from Brussels, Belgium, and said he hasn’t been home in two or three years. He doesn’t expect to get to go home before he reports to Dayton. He came to the United States by himself for his final three years of high school and attended Chaminade-Madonna Prep School in Hollywood, Fla. He said when he visited UD, it reminded him of his high school.

Andre Torres coached Camara for three seasons at Chaminade-Madonna and said he was a completely different player as a senior compared to when he arrived in the United States as a sophomore.

“He used to be a very back-to-the-basket player early in his high school career,” said Torres, who’s now the athletic director at Cardinal Newman High School in West Palm Beach, Fla. “We slowly expanded his game. It was really fun to watch him develop. He went from being a little, scrawny kid trying to figure it out as a sophomore to having 40-plus point games as a senior. He kind of burst onto the scene. He was a late bloomer. He didn’t get a lot of exposure until the summer before his senior year.”

Grant was one of the first college coaches to call Torres about Camara and to meet with him.

“I thought coach Grant probably did the best job recruiting him out of high school,” Torres said. “I thought he was going to end up there. Even after Toumani chose Georgia, coach Grant called me and thanked me and talked about Toumani.”

Torres thinks Camara’s best basketball is still ahead of him. He said his versatility allows him to guard every position, and even if he’s having an off day, Camara can impact a game in many ways.

“He’s a great person, a high-character kid,” Torres said. “His maturity, his decision making, he’s just a hard-working kid. He’s definitely going to fit in. He has a high basketball IQ and really understands the game. He has a high motor. He’s a gym rat. He loves the game.”

Camara should be able to play right away because the NCAA is expected to approve a rule allowing all players to transfer one time without sitting out a season. That decision could come as early as April 15.

Camara will be one of five newcomers on what is now a 12-man roster, joining freshmen DaRon Holmes, Malachi Smith, Kaleb Washington and Lynn Greer III.

“There’s a lot of talent,” Camara said. “I feel like we can be successful, especially in the league. I’m just very excited about it and can’t wait to meet the guys.”

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