Entering this season, junior forward Reggie Cameron and senior center and co-captain Bradley Hayes had been little more than afterthoughts for the Georgetown men’s basketball team (12-8, 5-2 Big East). Cameron earned occasional playing time as a freshman but fell out of the rotation last season, while Hayes was a benchwarmer for his first three seasons, playing mostly garbage-time minutes.
Nevertheless, the two upperclassmen were optimistic about their chances of breaking into the Hoyas’ rotation.
“I came in my freshman year thinking I was going to make a large impact,” Hayes said. “Unfortunately, I had to sit back and learn from the older guys. Now I feel like I learned a lot, I learned what’s right and what’s wrong, and now I can come in and be a real leader.”
“We have four upperclassmen, and everyone else is an underclassmen,” Cameron added. “I’ve been here for two years, and I figure that I’m ready to have a big year.”
Head Coach John Thompson III was particularly impressed by Hayes, who earned a role as one of the team’s co-captains alongside senior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. The
move could have been seen as a surprise considering Hayes’ limited playing time in his previous three seasons, but Thompson did not hesitate in naming him as a captain.
“[Hayes] earned it,” Thompson said. “It would not make sense to put anyone else in that lineup, just how he’s going about his business, the leadership he’s displayed. And I mean as much off the court, in the locker room, as I mean what’s happening out here. … To the point of captain and leadership, without a doubt, they know, he’s earned that.”
Hayes impressed immediately when the season began, posting a double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds in Georgetown’s season opener against Radford (11-9, 4-4 Big South). He followed that by scoring 16 points against then-No. 3 Maryland (17-2, 6-1 Big Ten) and 21 points against rival and then-No. 14 Syracuse (13-7, 3-4 Atlantic Coast).
Hayes was a freshman in 2013 when the Hoyas played the Orange three times in Syracuse’s final season in the Big East. However, he played only one minute combined in those three games, recording one foul in garbage time. This year, he relished the opportunity to contribute in a critical rivalry game.
“It’s been constant work,” Hayes said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play much against Syracuse the last time, and there was a lot of built up aggression toward that, so to be able to come out and play and show how hard I’ve worked up to this moment, it just felt good.”
Statistically, Hayes’ rise has been meteoric. Entering this season, he had only scored 30 points in three seasons, a total that he matched in just the first two games of this season. Although he has slowed down since then, he has still been a contributor on the offensive end, using a reliable old-school hook shot that is effective with either hand.
Hayes averages 8.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.3 blocks per game this season. He works particularly hard on the defensive side of the ball. As a result, he leads Georgetown in rebounds and is tied with freshman center Jessie Govan for the team lead in blocks.
“Me and Coach Thompson talk about that all the time,” Hayes said. “He says that defensively they need me as a presence down low and on the boards. For my size, besides me and Jessie Govan, we’re the only two big guys out there, so they’re going to count on us a lot to get a lot of the rebounds both offensively and defensively.”
Hayes still has work to do on the defensive end. He has been caught out of position at certain times in recent games, leading to easy baskets and fouls. He has been in foul trouble in several games, recording four fouls in four of his last six games. In addition, Govan’s recent emergence as a key contributor has cut into Hayes’ minutes in certain games.
Still, his rapid improvement has been a key factor for a Georgetown team that lost center Joshua Smith and forward Mikael Hopkins (COL ’15) from last year’s team. In Thompson’s view, Hayes’ success has not been the result of a drastically different approach.
“I think Bradley cared the whole time, and if the coach gave him an opportunity, then the clouds really did open up,” Thompson said. “I don’t think Bradley’s changed who he is as a person; I think he’s comfortable.”
While Hayes has received a great deal of attention for his improvement this season, Cameron has also made significant strides. As a freshman, Cameron was a part of Georgetown’s rotation, playing in 32 of the team’s 33 games. He started 12 of those games, playing 13.3 minutes per game and scoring 3.8 points per game.
Still, Cameron’s efficiency left something to be desired, as he only made 36.2 percent of his field goal attempts. As a player who entered Georgetown with a reputation as a three-point shooting specialist, his 32.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc was not ideal.
As a sophomore, Cameron began to fade into the background. Georgetown added several highly-touted freshmen, including guard L.J. Peak and forwards Paul White and Isaac Copeland, who each began to assume some of Cameron’s minutes at the forward positions.
Cameron struggled in limited minutes and eventually fell out of the primary rotation, never playing for more than four minutes per game after the Hoyas began conference play. His statistics suffered, as he averaged only 1.2 points per game and made just five of his 24 three-point attempts.
This season, Peak, White and Copeland all returned and were joined by freshman forward Marcus Derrickson — who immediately entered the starting lineup — and sophomore forward Akoy Agau, a transfer from Louisville. It would have been easy to envision Cameron receiving sporadic playing time again with the crowded roster.
However, Agau injured his leg and has not played this season, while White recently underwent hip surgery. Cameron has seized his opportunity, earning a spot in the Hoyas’ regular rotation. Recently, Cameron has even stepped into Derrickson’s spot in the starting lineup, starting each of Georgetown’s last four games.
Cameron earned the increased playing time by emerging as one of Georgetown’s top outside shooters. He ranks second on the team with 26 made three-pointers, and his current 37.7 percent three-point shooting percentage represents a significant improvement from his 29.4 percent career percentage entering this season.
According to Cameron, much of his offseason preparation focused on the mental aspect of the game.
“I got in the gym over the summer. I worked out with my teammates and stuff like that. Our Italy trip really helped me out a lot. I played well over there, so my confidence is where it needs to be,” Cameron said.
As effective as Cameron is as an outside shooter, he has shown that he is more than just a three-point marksman. He has demonstrated an increased willingness to attack the defense, either by going to the rim or using a pull-up jump shot off the dribble. Cameron’s increased aggressiveness is reflected in his foul-shooting totals, as Cameron has attempted 32 free throws in 391 minutes this season after attempting only 25 in 532 minutes in his two previous seasons.
In Cameron’s four starts, he has averaged 27 minutes per game, including a career high 15-point performance in a win over St. John’s (7-12, 0-6 Big East) and has become a trusted member of Thompson’s rotation.
Entering the season, it would have seemed unlikely that Cameron and Hayes would emerge as regular starters and key contributors for Georgetown. Although the pair have greatly exceeded expectations this season, they have always been more focused on team goals.
“I’d like to leave wherever I come to better than what it was when I got here,” Hayes said. “So if that’s putting a banner up on the wall, if that’s putting a ring on my finger, that’s the goal. That’s ultimately the goal for everybody. In the end, I just want to go as far as we can go.”