With zero D-1 scholarships out of high school, Campbell’s Ricky Clemons is proving he belongs — and can thrive — at college basketball’s highest level.
Cameron Indoor Stadium is a unique and magical venue, holding 9,300 fans at its capacity — a modest sum for an ACC arena. However, it’s the rabid nature of Duke’s “Cameron Crazies” that make the facility come alive.
On Saturday, the Camels of Campbell University stepped foot in Durham, N.C. to take on the No. 9 Blue Devils. Campbell was down its starting center and it still gave Duke everything it could handle.
Even with future NBA stars on the floor and the sport’s winningest head coach on the sidelines in Mike Krzyzewski, the star of the night was Campbell guard Ricky Clemons.
Clemons finished with 18 points, going 7-of-10 from the field while adding four rebounds and three assists in his 35 minutes. But to understand what made the performance so special, let’s familiarize ourselves with Clemons’ backstory.
“Ricky came to us as a walk-on from Rolesville (N.C.) High. He has worked very hard,” Campbell head coach Kevin McGeehan said. “He is a physically capable kid — you know he is tough.”
Clemons’ route to Campbell was an unlikely one. Despite scoring 1,728 career points in his four years at the varsity level, Clemons carried just a lone offer from Catawba College even after averaging 20 points and six rebounds his senior season.
Clemons bet on himself, choosing Campbell with no guarantees of a solidified role or frequent playing time. He appeared in three games as a freshman and then 21 as a sophomore. However, it was in the middle of Clemons’ sophomore year when McGeehan needed a spark. The team had lost five straight, so McGeehan looked to his unheralded guard.
“He worked and worked,” McGeehan said. “It got to about midway through his sophomore year; he was a natural candidate for us to help him lead the spark for our team. When he came in, he played well, and we started to play better as a team.”
Clemons has started 40 games since he was first inserted as a starter his sophomore season, earning a full scholarship for his junior and senior years. The Camels are 18-12 in the games Clemons started and are widely viewed as a Big South title contender alongside Winthrop this season. Clemons recorded a career-high 19 points in last year’s Big South semifinals before a devastating 80-53 loss to Winthrop in the winner-take-all title game.
This time around, Clemons and the Camels will look to finish the job and secure a tournament ticket.
“We gave him a scholarship last season,” McGeehan said, “He started all year, and he is a very, very good player. I think he is the best on-ball defender in our league. He goes out and guards like crazy on the opposing team’s best player.”
Underdog stories make college basketball special. Clemons didn’t follow the traditional script but worked his tail off and carved out a substantial role on a team we could see in March. In hindsight, Clemons should have seen heavier recruitment coming out of high school, but he has proven his worth in the process.
Header image courtesy of ScarboroughPhotography.com.