Former Dougherty High star Chris Cameron set the local hoops scene on fire during his heyday, then he took his talents to Division I Tulane and eventually overseas to play professionally, before returning to Albany and becoming the head men’s basketball coach at Albany State. Cameron will be one of four new inductees into the Albany Sports HOF on Monday night. (Albany Sports Hall of Fame/Special to The Herald)
ALBANY — Chris Cameron has traveled all over the world playing and coaching basketball, but the 1993 Dougherty High grad always found his way back to Albany.
And that’s exactly how it was meant to be, said Cameron, the former prep star and current Albany State men’s basketball coach who will be inducted into the Albany Sports Hall of Fame on Monday.
“I never really knew where I would end up,” Cameron said. “It feels a little like destiny for me to coach right here in Albany and do some of the things that I wanted to do in my own community.”
After standout careers at Dougherty and Tulane University, Cameron played professionally for four years in Iceland, Finland, Mexico and San Diego and then returned home to Albany in 2001 as an assistant coach at Albany State, where he was later named the head coach in 2006.
At 38 years old, Cameron is the youngest of four inductees this year, but Hall of Fame president Bobby Stanford said Thursday that Cameron’s inclusion was only a matter of time.
“To me, the thing that is remarkable is that he hadn’t gone in the Hall of Fame earlier,” Stanford said. “It’s always good to have people that come back to the community and live their lives after an athletic career like he had.”
Cameron didn’t just return to his community, he has spent the last decade trying to return Albany to its basketball glory days, which made the former Dougherty star a legend in the early ’90s but have since disappeared.
“I’ll go the barber shop, and they will still be reliving the days when I played,” Cameron said. “They will say that basketball will never be the same as when I played.”
Cameron said playing in the era when Southwest Georgia was a hotbed for basketball held a lot of weight when it came to being nominated for the Hall of Fame, and his goal the past 14 years has been to strengthen the Albany-area hoops scene.
In 1999, he started the Chris Cameron Basketball Camp and has worked with more than 2,500 youths since it began. He also established the first high school basketball team camp at a Historically Black College and University in the Southeast in 2002 and organized the ASU Youth Summer Basketball League in 2009.
“Ever since I have been back, I have made a conscious effort to bring the level of basketball in Albany back up,” he said. “I want to do my part to give back to the community and give back to the kids and give them an opportunity that I didn’t have growing up.”
Cameron grew up as a star on the court, becoming the third-leading scorer at Dougherty at the time of his graduation. As a senior, Cameron averaged 27 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks per game and was the Region 1-AAA Player of the Year. He was also the runner-up Player of the Year in the state and was named MVP of the Georgia North-South All-Star game.
It was during his high school career when he developed his dunking abilities, which have since become legendary.
“That’s how a lot of people remember me,” he said. “Athleticism was a strong part of my game, but at the same time, I was always trying to get to the rim and make the highlight play. If there was one thing I wanted to do more than anything, it was dunk on somebody.”
Cameron won the dunk contest at the KFC All-Star game in Albany and finished third in the nation in the NCAA Slam-Dunk Contest while at Tulane.
But as good as he was above the rim, he also hung his hat on defense. He was named Tulane’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1997, was a two-time All-Defense selection in Conference USA and finished seventh all-time in steals at Tulane.
During his four years at Tulane, the Green Wave made the NIT three times — including a Final Four appearance in 1996 — and received an NCAA tournament bid in 1995. Cameron continued to earn awards outside of America during his professional career, winning MVP honors of the Finnish League in 1999 and the Most Exciting Player award in the Mexican CIMEBA League in 2000.
But despite all of his accomplishments, Cameron said it was a still a surprise when Stanford called him three weeks ago to tell him he would enter the Hall of Fame.
“My mouth dropped wide open,” Cameron said. “It’s humbling when you think about all the men and women who have played sports in Albany and Southwest Georgia. To be in a club with the best of them is pretty special.”
Cameron was an assistant coach at ASU from 2001 to 2005 before accepting an assistant job at Xavier University of Louisiana, but he was in New Orleans for just four months before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and cancelled the basketball season at Xavier.
When he came back to Albany, they had a head coaching job waiting for him at ASU. He hasn’t had a winning season in his seven years as head coach but still relishes the challenge of bringing the program back to its prominence in the 1970s and ’80s.
“It’s challenging, but I feel like it was the reason I was placed back here,” he said. “I am just doing the best I can to put the program in a respectful light. Right now I am just trying to do the best I can right here at ASU. There is a very strong part of me that wants to get this program back to where it was.
“I really put my playing career to the side when I started working here because I am from the area and remember the rich history of the program. The disarray the program was in, in terms of not being a top program, really made me want to commit to bringing that excellence back.”
Cameron, who received a Master’s degree in health and physical education from ASU in 2009, has three daughters — Saadiyah and twins Saa’nala and Saa’nyla — with his wife, Reeshemah.