"That was the kind of controlled arrogance I've been looking for from Marcus all along," says Calipari. "Everybody in the gym knew he was getting the ball at crunch time, and he scored anyway. That's big."
As Maryland coach Gary Williams prepared his team to face Camby on Dec. 2, he sat in his office and reviewed a play from UMass's game with Kentucky, in which Camby grabbed a defensive rebound, dribbled out of traffic and up the court before dishing a textbook bounce pass for a layup. "You couldn't make a better play," said Williams. "Every dribble was perfect. If you didn't know he was 6'11", you'd swear he was a guard. There aren't many people that big who can do that." Camby scored the clinching basket against the Terps as the Minutemen prevailed 50-47.
The next day, after Camby scored 30 points in an 80-58 blowout of Florida, hitting turnaround jumpers from 15 feet, running the court like a guard, throwing passes to slashing teammates and swatting away two shots, Gator center Dametri Hill admitted what all of Camby's opponents have been thinking: "He's so good that I caught myself watching him a little bit out there, and he made me pay for it."
In front of that platoon of NBA scouts in attendance to watch the nation's best centers, Camby stumbled a bit in the early going. He forced several shots in the first half against the Wake Forest zone and told Calipari at halftime that it was his fault that UMass led by only 30-27—the kind of admission that would have been rare in seasons past. Camby showed more patience in the second half, concentrating on defense, where he played Duncan man-to-man most of the night. Duncan had entered the game shooting a robust 76.7% from the floor, but he made only 4 of 18 shots against UMass. Camby shot just 6 for 19 from the field himself but had nine rebounds and three blocks and generally dazzled the assembled judges. "You can tell Camby has worked very hard on his low-post moves," said Jon Jennings, the Boston Celtics' director of basketball development. "He's always been good at creating off the dribble, but now he shoots off his right and left shoulders. On defense, when he blocks the ball, it comes back to him. Bill Russell did that."
As the final buzzer sounded, Duncan sought out Camby, gave him a brief hug and whispered in Camby's ear, "I'll see you at the draft." Duncan may or may not have been kidding. UMass and Wake have a rematch next season on the Deacons' floor, but neither center has declared whether he will be on hand for it. What does seem likely is that once Duncan and Camby do graduate to the NBA, it will spell the end of their head-to-head confrontations. Despite his height Camby weighs only 220 pounds, giving him the body of an NBA small forward with the potential to grow into a power forward. Duncan, a 6'10", 240-pound shot blocker with more limited range on offense, is projected as a center, one of the few prospects at that position in college basketball. "Marcus has a more well-rounded game, with a combination of height and quickness that will provide plenty of matchup problems in the NBA," says Chuck Douglas, an assistant general manager with the Washington Bullets. "But Duncan may have the edge when it comes to which guy gets drafted higher, because he's only 19, and there's a real scarcity of true centers in the NBA."
Will last week's meeting prove pivotal in their battle to become the NBA's No. 1 pick? "It's a rare treat for a scout to see two players of that quality go toe-to-toe, but you don't judge any player on one game," says the Grizzlies' Riley. "I think that each met his match. It wasn't quite like watching Ewing and Sampson out there, but I still like both of them."
Indeed, in the end it was not Alcindor-Hayes or Sampson-Ewing but more Abbott-Costello, at least as far as the shooting percentages were concerned. "It's rare that a game like this lives up to the extraordinary buildup," said Wake Forest coach Dave Odom, who sat on the Virginia bench as an assistant coach when Ewing dueled Sampson 13 years ago this week. "The way to have made this a great game would've been to have invited Camby to practice with us this week so that these two tall guys could've gotten accustomed to each other. It looked like it was startling for each of them to have someone staring him straight in the eye whenever he turned around, but that made for a spectacular defensive show."
"Marcus played great defense, bothering me to a point where I let myself get frustrated and disappointed out there," Duncan said after the game. "He beat the crap out of me, but I learned a lot, and I think it was fun for both of us."
After Duncan was long gone from the arena, Camby headed back to his dorm room, where he had tacked up another index card for last Saturday's game against intrastate rival Boston College, in which he would score 19 points and make a pivotal block in the Minutemen's 65-57 win. As he strolled out of the arena, he encountered six friends from Hartford. Camby crowed about his victory over Duncan, but his confidence was sincere. "Duncan's soft," said Camby, his warm breath rising into the freezing Amherst night. "He's scared of me. After the game was over, he said, 'You got me.' "
A moment later a UMass fan yelled from a passing car, "You schooled him, Marcus."