Nappies, threes and European dreams: In-depth with Cameron Healy

When I spoke to the University of Albany men’s basketball team's media manager, requesting to speak to Cameron Healy, I got a a date and time.

“11am last Saturday Sydney time, or, 7pm in New York City,” the email said. When the time arrived, like clockwork, my phone lit up with an overseas number. I picked up, and introduced myself.

“Hey, I’m Cam. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak to me.”

After our exchange of pleasantries, we started chatting hoops. It was an extremely pleasant start to a long and wide-ranging chat. I left the conversation totally convinced of both his tenacity and work ethic towards the game of basketball, but more importantly, of his thoroughly decent qualities as a sportsman and human being.

As a pre-cursor to the rest of this piece, it is important to note that basketball wasn’t something that Healy fell into and happened to be extremely apt at. Nor was there a lightbulb moment where he felt that playing the sport was his life's path.

“Basketball was just, always in my life plan.”

“I still have cousins and family members come up to me. Some I haven’t seen in years. They say that I was dribbling and playing with basketballs when I was in nappies, even before I could walk. I know that people don’t believe that or say it’s clichéd – but it’s been a part of me since before I remember.”

Growing up in Australia, by Cam's own admission he wasn't the most athletic, or physically gifted sportsman. In fact, he was rarely even the best player on his own team.

"I played for my local club team when I was young. My dad was the coach, and my brother Kai was always the star player."

A slow grind rather than a young phenom destined for greatness seemed to be the early blueprint, not that it fussed Healy. One size doesn't fit all, and, as he admits, "There's no right or wrong way to go about things. You just have to trust the process."

That process began at the aforementioned Scots College, a prestigious basketball program at an elite Sydney school in the eastern suburbs.

"Scots [College] was a great experience for me. In terms of experience and work ethic - that's where it all picked up.

"It was a full schedule. We were working out all the time. The goal from Scots was always to play divisional basketball. We had NSW workouts, people watching us play - and we were expected to play at a high level. Setting standards was important."

At some point in his Sydney schooling journey, the switch flicked. His father played in Indiana, his brother had moved to America (now playing with Santa Clara) - and Healy felt the path to American basketball was the natural one, if higher success was a real and legitimate goal.

"I moved to Indiana when I was 17, halfway through year 10. My grandparents lived there which made things easier. I went and played at the "EG10" (Eric Gordon) basketball academy - which was a great experience."

From there, Healy got noticed by Randy Livingston. The Houston Rockets draftee of 1996 liked what he saw in the 6'3 Australian guard, and got him a trial with Montverde High School - the alma mater of players like D'Angelo Russell, Joel Embiid, and closer to home, one Ben Simmons.

"I really liked the look of Montverde. If anything, my only concern about the program was that the basketball was a little too good!"

Healy by his own admission, had to work really hard in his junior year. He played alongside current Duke phenom, and likely top 3 draft pick RJ Barrett in that 2017 season, averaging 6 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists per game.

Attention started coming in for Healy. There was one weekend playing at a tournament in Milwaukee when he received three offers from different Division 1 colleges. The temptation of a significant guard role on a roster was too much to turn down.

Fast forward two years.

The date is the 2nd of February, 2019. Cam Healy and the University at Albany Great Danes are about to take the floor to play division rivals, Binghampton Bearcats.

Less than one hour later, Healy tied the college's record for three-pointers made in a game (9), and dropped 31 points to lead his side to a 64-50 win.

It was a performance that Fox Sport's Olgun Uluc said: "may be one of the best shooting performance you’ll see from any freshman, this season."

"That was a crazy game. I knew they were going to come out and play zone (defence), so I told myself I would hit ten threes. I was annoyed that I dropped one short!"

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🚨 Freshman Cameron Healy with a career-high 31 points including a school record 9 three-pointers! 📹 @ualbanysports #AussieHoops

A post shared by The Pick and Roll (@pickandrollau) on Feb 3, 2019 at 4:47pm PST

"I was actually quite emotional after that game. It felt as though I had gained some payback for everything I’ve worked for, sacrificed and chased.

"Before this season, I've always seen my basketball progression as a process. Can I get minutes on a good side? Can I play Division 1 minutes? Can I contribute in those minutes? I truly felt like I belong there now."

The shoot-first nature of Healy's game isn't a secret, though. It's a craft he has worked on and refined in his progression from a pass-first facilitator, to legitimate three-point, catch and shoot sniper.

"Through my basketballing life, it was always a knock on my game that people thought I wasn’t athletic enough, and that I wasn't quite up to standard.

"I only made one state team in my junior career (U16's) and even then I only came off the bench to play reserves minutes. That fuelled me to work hard and push myself.

"I basically decided when I was red-shirting at Montverde that I really needed to transform my game. Basketball has so many role players, and you need to carve a niche to separate yourself somehow.

"When I was at High School at Montverde, I decided I wanted to try and be the best shooter in the country. That was my mindset."

This dogged mental stance has reaped the results. Healy is averaging 41% from 3-point land on eight attempts per game. He also shoots at an elite 91% from the charity stripe alongside his 16.2 points per game as a freshman.

He acknowledges areas of his game that need further work, now that he is a legitimate shooter.

"It is key that I get to the free throw line more, and work in the mid-range with more efficiency. I don’t shoot a lot of floaters, and it’s difficult to score at the rim with my size."

"I've watched a lot of Kobe [Bryant] and the way he plays – so yeah, with that in mind I think my mid-range game is going to be a big focus for me over the summer.

Healy picked a few names, when I asked about who he looks up to in the NBA, both from an Australian, and global perspective.

"I love the way Delly [Matthew Dellavedova] plays. His physicality, and his work around the court is exactly the way I like to play."

Naturally, as with most of these conversations, the dialogue progressed to the professional scenes and future goals. Healy is eligible for the draft in 2022 - however, he says it's not a major focus for him right now.

"Obviously it would be cool to play in the NBA - but I realistically try not to think about that. I would love to play in Europe at a professional level. That'd be a dream of mine."

I ended our call by asking him if I'd missed anything, or if there was more he wanted to add.

"I actually have some advice for anyone reading this who may be keen to follow a similar path, or travel to play overseas."

"Keep working hard at your game. Consistently find ways to improve, and where there's a weakness or shortcoming. It's easy to just practice the things you're good at - but that doesn't push you forward."

"And most importantly, any self doubt or concerns you may have - they're in your head. It's such a mental battle - so try your very hardest to stay in control of that."

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“Life at its best is a series of ups and downs” #2076 🇦🇺

A post shared by Cameron jones healy (@cjh__11) on Dec 17, 2018 at 5:40pm PST

The day after we spoke, Healy’s Great Danes defeated the Maine Black Bears by 9 points. Our interviewee led all scorers with 16 points, including four from beyond the arc. He also chipped in 4 rebounds and 3 assists.

It was another workmanlike, consistent performance in a season, no, career, moving merrily along.