The 2015-16 Morgan State men’s basketball team was blessed to have an on-court general in senior point guard Donte Pretlow. But that did not prevent a freshman backup nicknamed “Tez” from taking the reins when he was on the floor.
Tiwian Kendley remembered a 5-foot-11, 165-pound Martez Cameron calling plays, making decisions, and reminding older teammates of their responsibilities just as the veteran Pretlow did.
“He came in and ran the team,” recalled Kendley, now a shooting guard for the Washington Wizards’ G League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go, who transferred to the Bears from Lamar Community College (Colo.) but had to sit out the 2015-16 season to raise his grades. “Even though we had Donte Pretlow at the time, when Tez was on the court, he definitely ran the team, and he wasn’t shy, and he wasn’t nervous. He just knew that was his job — to get everybody together. So that’s what he did.”
Now a senior and 20 pounds heavier, Cameron, who has been playing point guard since he picked up a basketball as a youngster, said directing the team is part of the position’s job description.
“I kind of have always been in the leader’s spot regardless of my being a senior,” he said. “Just me playing the point guard position, those are usually the leaders on the team. So I always grew up being a leader.”
Cameron has taken similar command of the current Bears (5-5), who have won their past three games. He leads the team in assists per game (3.1), is tied for second in scoring (8.1 points per game), ranks third in 3-point field-goal percentage (.421) and stands fourth in steals (0.8 per game).
In the first two victories of the streak over Binghamton and Towson, Cameron combined for 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. He then had seven points, four assists and four rebounds in Monday’s win against Wilmington. He ranks third in program history in career assists (364) and has an outside chance of catching Billy Newton, who ranks second with 421 assists, and Jason McCoy, who leads with 442 assists.
But Cameron, who is on pace to graduate next spring with a bachelor’s degree in family and consumer sciences, sounded matter-of-fact about the numbers he has compiled thus far.
“Just leading the team in a way that we can rally and get the job done,” he said of his mindset. “Whatever it takes for me to do for our team to be successful, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Assistant coach Brian Ellerbe attributed some of Cameron’s personal success to his longevity within the program. He leads the Bears in games started (78) and games played (102), and Ellerbe said maturation has aided Cameron’s development.
“I just think he’s more comfortable in his role and his understanding of what we’re trying to do,” Ellerbe said. “Experience has a way of doing that.”
Cameron’s drive this season has been fueled by a desire to help Morgan State capture what would be the school’s first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title since 2009-10 and the death of his older brother, Lavonte, in June.
Cameron, who has written the words “Long Live Vonnie” on his basketball shoes, said his brother’s passing reminded him that life can be short, sudden and unexpected.
“It was a tough loss and all, but life goes on,” he said. “I just took it as a chance to go out there and play for him every time I go out and play.”
Kendley, who said he and Cameron talk often, said the tragedy has inspired his former teammate.
“Death is not easy for anybody, but it’s about how you respond,” Kendley said. “My aunt, my sister and my grandfather have passed, and he’s been in my corner. So I just want to be here for him. It’s not easy to deal with that, but it affected him in a way that it opened him up and that he has to go 100 percent harder and be smarter and be more of a leader. Now he has a legit reason to do something he loves and do it for his brother.”
The bar of winning a MEAC championship is a high one, and Cameron has not been shy about expecting more from himself and his teammates. Senior guard Tyler Streeter, who has known Cameron since they played for rival high schools St. Francis de Sales (Streeter) and De La Salle (Cameron) in Chicago, said Cameron “gives it to you real.”
“He’s like a little pitbull out there,” Streeter said. “He’s always at you. He’s constantly telling you what to do, giving you direction, and also lifting you up at the same time. So he’s a great point guard.”
Although last year’s team was headlined by Kendley (26.1 points per game) and forward Phillip Carr (13.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game), Ellerbe said the coaches voted Cameron as the Most Valuable Player.
“Even though we had two young guys on our basketball team that were exceptional talents, we as coaches voted Martez as the MVP because we couldn’t have executed anything unless he was on the floor,” he said. “When you put it in that context, it’s very difficult to be able to execute or to have any type of continuity if you don’t have someone with the basketball that has an idea of what you’re trying to accomplish.”